A love triangle gets lost at sea. Harpoon pits three troubled teens in a chamber drama of social errors, as they misread and destroy the boundaries of their relationships. Once we’re locked out at sea, a narrator (Brett Gelman, in Arrested Development inflection) tells us why such a fate has befallen our trio. They have broken all the superstitions smarter sailors might avoid. Humorously, our narrator comments, nobody named Jonah ought to be brought aboard a boat; and yet, here is Munro Chambers, playing our Jonah with effective vulnerability, a young man who’s just been orphaned and finds strength in his friends. They say never to bring a redhead on board, we’re told, but Emily Tyra’s Sasha is as red as they come. Christopher Gray plays a smug rich guy called Richard, who at least owns a boat. Our friends would sooner kill each other than have their darkest, innermost truths laid bare before them, but both may have to happen. Gilligan’s Island this ain’t.
We know from the first scene what kind of relationship Jonah and Richard have. They’re forged together by inescapable need. Jonah understands his friend and in return, Richard provides experiences with his money. After potentially misreading a group text that would insinuate Jonah’s sleeping with Sasha now, the two engage in early fisticuffs before we even know very much about them. They do not get to develop because they are prone to conflict so early as the movie begins in the climax that persists the rest of the film. Their relationship is already lost at sea, going out on the boat does not change their context for each other, and Sasha’s involvement is almost as a provocative third wheel. She’s a best friend to both, also, but what is she getting if not shared affection, from either?
When the crew has a blowout fight where a harpoon gun gets weaponized, they take to throwing everything that could be a weapon off the ship. Their relationship is predicated on eye-for-an-eye behavior. If someone has been wronged, they’re owed punches or some reciprocal pain leveraged against the other party. Richard is always talking about reparations. Once they’ve lightened the boat of all its useful survival tools and weapons, the problem occurs: the boat no longer starts. They are left without any food or water, just time to think and a few bad attitudes.
Harpoon takes a while but eventually becomes quite gritty. The plot lathers itself up until it reaches a fine point of exhilaration and everything has been revealed. The journey to get there is not quite as fun as the destination. There is about enough for a very compelling short film or a smaller featurette about half its length. We know what to think pretty immediately and then it does not develop beyond the way we expect it to go. There’s something to be said for it. Harpoon is exactly what you think it is. For the right audience, its twisty love triangle may prove just enough to keep the film seaworthy.