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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

When I Find the Ocean (review)

Oh, if only sincerity alone made for good film! Ill-conceived, poorly written, badly acted, and incompetently directed, this is a disaster from start to finish, but it’s hard to impugn the motives of writer-director Tonya S. Holly, making her feature debut. It could have been sweet and poignant and honest, this tale of a young girl in rural Alabama in the 1960s who, unable to get past her own grief, runs away in an attempt to get to the ocean, which her imagination has imbued with the soul of her father, who was lost at sea. Alas that Lily’s obsession with the faraway ocean comes across as so simplistic that it has an autistic quality to it — I honestly believed at first that Lily was meant to be mentally retarded (she isn’t) — and alas that Holly made the extremely poor decision to cast her own inexperienced daughter in the role: it would have a challenge for even the most gifted child actor. And the themes of racism and abuse that spring from Lily’s story are even more awkwardly developed to the point of being laughable, when it is patently obvious that laughter is the last response the film wants to evoke.


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MPAA: rated PG for thematic material involving violence and racial slurs, and for language

viewed at home on a small screen

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