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Tribeca Film Festival Review: ‘Rounding’ Goes Down Rabbit Holes We Just Can’t Follow

It’s always frustrating when you see a film trying something that just doesn’t work. The basics of Rounding are interesting, intriguing even, but a need to go down all sorts of odd rabbit holes give it an elasticity of premise that doesn’t help. What should be intense and tightly round feels disjointed and slack, experimenting with multiple genres. There’s decent acting on display, but a bloated running length and an inability to drill down on what’s important about this story keeps the movie from succeeding. Playing at the 2022 Tribeca Film Festival, it’s the sort of flick doomed to not have much of a life after the fest ends.

Rounding has a hook that works, but the genre trappings just don’t work. Either this film needed to lean more into being a paranoid thriller or it needed to opt to be a full on medical drama. By trying to merge the two it winds up being too ambitious of a flick, preventing it from ever fully working. It’s a shame, too, as there are major hints of something compelling here.

Rounding

We’re introduced to resident doctor James Hayman (Namir Smallwood) in the aftermath of a treatment gone wrong for an elderly patient. Seeking a fresh start, James transfers to a small rural hospital in Greenville for the second year of his residency. The goal is to find himself and keep his promising career on the ascent. Urged by his superior Dr. Harrison (Michael Potts) to be easier for the patients to relate with, he’s enrolled in a “Bedside Technique” class. However, James quickly becomes obsessed with a new patient, with major consequences for him (including an ankle injury), as his past demons bubble to the surface.

James sees young asthma patient Helen Adso (Sidney Flanigan) as a particularly unusual case. Helen’s mother Karen (Rebecca Spense) is evasive about details, while the girl seemingly just doesn’t get better. The more he looks into it, the more concerned and consumed he becomes. At the same time, the mother is suspicious of him, while the hospital bureaucracy makes getting answers hard. As it all progresses, he becomes unable to separate nightmares from reality.

Lead Namir Smallwood and supporting player Sidney Flanigan have the central roles. Smallwood goes big with his reactions, and he’s being asked to do a lot, but you rarely believe that’s how his character would react. On the other hand, Flanigan is impactful and understated. Her work in Never Rarely Sometimes Always blew me away and this is more evidence that she’s definitely going places. In addition to Michael Potts and Rebecca Spense, the supporting players include Cheryl Lynn Bruce and more.

Filmmaker Alex Thompson, along with his co-writer Christopher Thompson, try a lot here. They never allow Rounding to get boring, but they make it too disjointed to be fully invested in. Horror tropes, religious iconography, and a twist you’ll see coming are all handled in a way that keeps you from fully buying into the premise. They do get credit for casting Flanigan, who remains an exciting young actress, but it’s just not enough.

Rounding isn’t a bad film, but it’s one of the more forgettable Tribeca offerings this year. Aside from Flanigan, nothing really pops off the screen. Considering the premise and the ambition on display, that makes it a real shame, too.

SCORE: ★★1/2

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Written by Joey Magidson

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