Synopsis: Young, single non-custodial father and his daughter vacation in Turkey, relaxing, stressing, and conversating. (Streaming on Amazon Prime as of February 2023.)
Holiday time! Sophie, an eleven-year-old Scottish girl is set for fun in the sun on her school break. She lives with her mum, but will be vacationing with her dad. They both seem eager to make up for lost time…maybe setting up high expectations to have the best holiday ever.
Dad is Calum (Paul Mescal) who was a teen when Sophie was born. He gives off the air of having had to grow up fast. The movie begins with father and daughter on a motor coach that will transport them to their resort. “Resort” being a relative term. It’s a budget package vacay. No matter, they’re both set for a pleasant visit.
At first, I was confused about the destination. From the way the sun was bouncing off their fiercely white skin, I could see they were far from Scotland. Maybe they were in Spain?
Argh, the room is wrong. Calum calls the front desk, telling the clerk he reserved a room with two beds and this has only one bed. But they offer no help. It’s like: What do you think this is, a hotel?
Poor Calum. It looks like he could handle himself in a fight, but as a young dad he’s at a disadvantage here. An older dad would storm down to the front desk and insist on the bed he paid for NOW. But he’s at a loss at navigating what seems to be the first vacay he’s been able to afford. Well, unlike an older dad, at least he and his young back will be able to weather sleeping on a side chair for the night.
Sophie and Callum’s first day in the sun is going according to plan. Calum is wisely making sure that Sophie uses sunscreen at the pool. When they take a walk around, they pass arcade games (Sophie’s eyes light up) and a bar. Stopping at a pool table, they start to play and invite a couple of nearby teens to play as well. One of the teens mentions something to Calum, assuming Sophie is his little sister. Calum hesitates for a beat, then two: Actually, I’m her dad. In between that beat, he registers self-consciousness–you can see him about to let it go– but then he steps up and corrects the assumption. His instincts are telling him that letting it go would make it seem to Sophie like, somehow their reality was embarrassing.
Calum is young, but he’s not a f***up. He’s a good dad, attentive and determined that Sophie have a carefree time. But Calum is anything but carefree. Events unfold undramatically as the camera records their leisure activities with a naturalistic view. Calum makes every effort to be jolly and accommodating.
But we see what Sophie is, thankfully, too young to register. When Sophie’s attention is elsewhere, Calum’s mien can change from numb and disconnected to vulnerable and taut in a flash. Aftersun doesn’t spell out what internal forces are driving his anguish. Is he laboring with depression or anxiety, some form of post traumatic stress?
Meanwhile, Sophie has fun exploring, swimming and making a tentative connection with a boy her own age. I quite like you, he says after afternoons spent chatting whilst playing arcade games. Sophie talks to her dad pretty openly; asking him questions and describing her feelings. Calum tells her she can always talk to him about anything.
O! I figured out where they were vacationing! When Calum and Sophie walk to some nearby shops outside the resort, I noticed all the vendors drinking hot tea in glass cups, even though it looked scorching outside. No hot tea in the heat for Spaniards! And, as I’m a real investigative genius, I deduced from the signs written with the Turkish alphabet, that they were in, yes, Turkey.
Sophie and Calum strolled into a small rug shop where they were selling, yes, Turkish rugs. Calum admires a small rug, but Sophie tells him he can’t afford it. In fact, we see other instances where she is cost conscious, being careful that he doesn’t spend on her for “extras.”
If Sophie is an open book, Calum is… a closed book! It seemed to me that he drank too much. But, if you’ve watched “Boozing Brits Abroad” you will know that young Brits don’t have a reputation for sobriety, so maybe his drive to drink is cultural, not personal.
Another thing… his arm is in a cast. When Sophie asks him how he broke his wrist, he says he doesn’t remember. Doesn’t that sound more like a bar story than a housework mishap? In another scene, he speaks easily with Sophie as he crops off, little by little, the arm cast. Somehow, I don’t think that the NHS staffer advised: Just hack it off whenever you like, love. Seems he might be reckless with himself, even though he takes care with his daughter.
Poor Calum. Sophie gets a bit peeved with him one night and sulks around the resort looking for company. I could tell that her dad was taking it rough, because he later staggers around town by himself and swipes a discarded ciggie off the street. Not the lowest point a person can get to, but partaking of abandoned drinks and ciggies are def red flags.
I recommend you enjoy yourself with the sightseeing at ruins and at a trip the father and daughter take to a mud bath. You will need these good memories to recover from 1) the sight of Sophie & Calum subjected to staff at the resort leading a “Macarena” dance and 2) Calum stealing a moment alone to cry. Paul Mescal is such a good actor that he manages to get you even more choked up watching him mightily trying to stop crying than when we first see him weeping.
O! But there is a bit of good news. At some point during the vacation, a resort staffer has managed to get Calum a cot. And he and Sophie do have fun dancing.
Aftersun is sad, but it’s beautiful too. Trust me that writer-director Charlotte Wells doesn’t go for any cheap tricks like Sophie getting attacked by a shark or Calum breaking his back on substandard bedding.
Movie Loon’s Movie Review Shortcut”
Cut to the Chase: Intimate and realistic. Paul Mescal is fantastic.
Humor Highlight: Trying to figure out what’s what in the flashback? / flashforward? night club scenes with the strobe lights.
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