'Waterdance': refreshing, straightforward take on a paraplegic's tale

February 12, 1993|By Scott Hettrick | Scott Hettrick,Los Angeles Times Syndicate

THE WATERDANCE

(Columbia TriStar, 1992) This could have been another run-of-the-mill movie about a young man's difficult adjustment to being a paraplegic. And in some ways it is.

But Joel (Eric Stoltz) is not looking for pity and doesn't feel sorry for himself often. A quiet young writer who was paralyzed in a hiking accident, he is now trying to adjust to his new lifestyle in a hospital rehabilitation ward. Complicating the process is his relationship with Anna, a married woman (Helen Hunt), who is trying her best not to let his physical condition -- and the abrasive personalities of his roommates -- change her feelings for him.

Raymond (Wesley Snipes) is a cocky but friendly man who boasts about his prowess with women, and Bloss (William Forsythe) is an immature biker who outwardly despises the black Raymond, who is constantly baiting him.

As for Anna, Joel's disability seems like nothing more than a new challenge for her. She gamely makes several attempts at sex with him, which is sensitively but very vividly portrayed here. Her only obstacle seems to be Joel's embarrassment at his limitations and his curt treatment of her. Joel, it seems, knows that Anna is prolonging their inevitable breakup by denying the reality of the situation.

Meanwhile, the good-natured Raymond continues to pester Bloss with wheelchair-race challenges and bets about strippers he knows personally. Joel tries to keep a distance from both of them until it becomes clear that Raymond is masking the pain of his separation from his wife and daughter. Bloss recruits Joel to help cheer up Raymond, which leads to the realization among the three that they share a unique bond.

All four actors are terrific, and director Neal Jimenez's straightforward approach is refreshing. There is hardly an instance when you feel a need to reach for a tissue to dry your eyes, yet you feel as emotionally involved with these characters as similarly themed tear-jerkers.

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