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Sometimes we are the only ones who blame ourselves for our own mistakes. Even after people have moved on from what we've done, and stopped judging us, the final hurdle becomes self-forgiveness. David (Nathaniel Ansbach) is in such a predicament as he returns to his small lakeshore upstate New York town after dropping out of college. While David and his best friend Bobby were playing with guns eight years ago, David's gun was discharged, resulting in Bobby getting shot and dying.
David's return represents an unwanted return to this painful past as the town, along with both David and Bobby's families, had already begun the long trek to overcome their communal grief. The only person who seems to find value in David's return is Bobby's sister Amanda (Gabrielle Kalomiris), a dancer who struggles with low self-worth and depression.
Amanda doesn't think she's good enough to leave this small town along with her memories of her brother. The co-dependent relationship that forms between David and Amanda has a low-budget Silver Linings Playbook feel to it, with two people who are damaged through trauma struggling to find meaning in their lives through their mutual pain.
The dynamics of this relationship feel a bit derivative of the aforementioned dark rom-com and a heavy-handed melodrama like Manchester by the Sea, but the chemistry between Ansbach and Kalomiris keeps things afloat. I especially appreciated the subtle symbolism writer Rich Cirillo employs when it comes to thematically linking these characters' desires to leave their hometown to their struggle to leave the agony of the past behind.
Director S.J. Creazzo takes full advantage of the cold but beautiful rural New York locations in order to provide a low-budget visual companion to the overall maudlin tone of the material. Skipping Stones could have worked much better as an 80-minute and tightly focused character study about two people who can't move on from the past.
Amanda's depression stemmed from knowing deep down that her parents would have wished for her to die instead gives a mini-Ordinary People feeling subplot to the narrative. But a subplot about another hidden secret from the past and an unnecessary mystery aspect to the third act makes such a small-scale effort feel bloated.
However, the biggest sin here is the overused climactic cliche of such a melodrama. It's added for shock effect but only manages to pull out groans and disbelief that such a tired trope is still in use in an unironic way. Only a parody like MacGruber can get away with it these days. There's value in Skipping Stones as a, pardon the pun, stepping stone for all involved to move onto bigger and better stuff. There's certainly a talent for it if they can avoid having more faith in their material, at least enough to not feel the need to use such a lazy ending next time.
Oktay Ege Kozak is a film critic and screenwriter based in Portland, Oregon. He also writes for The Playlist, The Oregon Herald, and Beyazperde.com