Originally, Treading Water was called The Boy Who Smells Like Fish — a more accurate title, though the new one is more appropriately generic.
Set in a faceless, timeless suburb, Analeine Cal y Mayor’s bland, faux-quirky dramedy’s most distinguishing set piece is a kitschy historic house museum dedicated to an erstwhile Mexican crooner named Guillermo Garibai. This is where Mica (Douglas Smith) lives with his mother (Ariadna Gil), who receives money from the singer’s foundation to give tours of the preserved Garibai home, and his father (Don McKellar), who excuses himself from the family early and only returns later to steal their television.
Much of the drabness of Mica’s life can be blamed on one “particularity,” as he calls it — he suffers from trimethylaminuria, a metabolic disorder that causes him to emit a strong odor of fish. His condition is less noticeable in water, so he spends his time at the pool, where he meets Laura (Zoë Kravitz), a cute student whose unclear motivations are outweighed by Mica’s desperation to connect with someone other than his therapist (Carrie-Anne Moss).
Cal y Mayor’s storytelling renders what could have been a complex character incoherent and unrelatable, leaching Mica of substance as he ages; teenage Mica reacts to witnessing his mother’s violent death merely by swallowing and frowning a bit. The film focuses on whether Mica can find love, not whether he can lead a happy life; a final sequence featuring the arrival of Garibai himself (Gonzalo Vega, in a crass and thankless role) segues into an incongruous, highly choreographed musical number, a spectacle that, like the rest of the film, proves about as fun as letting your car drift into a highway divider.