- 1 hr 32 min
In the late 90s, writing and directing duo Stephen Gyllenhaal and his wife Naomi Foner created a low-budget indie drama about a group of working-class teens living in the Midwest. That movie was Floating, which has gone on to become a cult classic thanks to its raw and unflinching exploration of youth alienation and the moral decay of small-town life.
The movie stars Norman Reedus, perhaps best known to modern audiences for his role as Daryl on The Walking Dead. Here, he plays Van, a teenage screw-up who works at a convenience store with his best friend Jeff (Chad Lowe). While Jeff yearns for a better life and a way out of their dull and depressing hometown, Van seems perfectly content to drift along, snorting drugs and spouting off nihilistic philosophy.
But when the duo witnesses a violent crime, they find themselves drawn into a dangerous world of corruption and deceit. Along the way, they meet a number of other troubled characters, from Van's alcoholic father (Will Lyman) to a troubled young woman named Heather (Sydney Walsh).
At its core, Floating is a character study, digging deep into the psychology of its protagonists and exploring the ways in which they cope with the harsh realities of their world. Van, in particular, is a fascinatingly complex figure. He's nominally the protagonist of the story, but he's not really a hero; he's selfish and nihilistic, prone to lashing out both verbally and physically. Yet he's also deeply sympathetic, his brash exterior masking a profound sense of loneliness and isolation.
The movie's setting is also a key component of its success. Gyllenhaal and Foner capture the bleak, soul-crushing atmosphere of the American heartland, where the only escape from a life of day-to-day misery seems to be drugs, alcohol, or violence. The film's evocative cinematography, with its muted colors and stark compositions, adds to the sense of desolation and despair.
Of course, any movie is only as good as its cast, and with Floating, the filmmakers hit the jackpot. Reedus is a revelation, fully embodying the complex and conflicted Van. Lowe, perhaps best known for his role on Life Goes On, is equally strong as Jeff, bringing a quiet intensity to his performance. And Lyman, a veteran character actor, is heartbreakingly believable as Van's boozy father.
The supporting cast is no less impressive. Walsh is hauntingly vulnerable as Heather, a young woman grappling with addiction and trauma. Jim Gaines is chilling as the movie's primary villain, a corrupt businessman with ties to the criminal underworld. And Joe Perrino, who would go on to play Christopher Moltisanti Jr. on The Sopranos, makes a memorable appearance as a small-time drug dealer.
Despite its grim subject matter, Floating is not without its moments of humor and hope. There's a tender romance between Jeff and a college girl named Liz (Rachel Leigh Cook), a scene-stealing cameo by Ally Sheedy, and a few moments of sheer absurdity that break up the tension.
All in all, Floating is a triumph of gritty independent cinema, a movie that feels both timeless and deeply rooted in its era. It's a film about adolescence, yes, but it's more than that; it's a film about the precariousness of human existence, about the choices we make and the consequences they have. It's a movie that stays with you long after the credits roll, a testament to the power and beauty of storytelling at its best.