‘The Ocean of Helena Lee’: Film Review
A young girl whiles away her days contemplating the implications of the social disarray she observes surrounding her
It’s probably safe to say that Venice Beach, CA hosts more than its share of colorful, often idiosyncratic local characters in a constantly shifting scene that filmmaker Jim Akin sympathetically captures with his second feature, a film that’s more reliant on crafting a contemplative tone than a cohesive narrative. As a result, the flexibility of digital platforms may help attract a broader audience than marginal theatrical play.
Middle-aged part-time musician and full-time slacker Mickey Lee (Tom Dunne) fits right in with the cheerful anarchy of the Venice Beach scene, but it might not be the most suitable situation for his twelve-year-old daughter Helena (Moriah Blonna). The arrival of summer finds her without any specific plans, spending her days swimming in the ocean and drifting up and down the beach and its adjacent byways in search of inspiration to fuel her tentative aspiration to become a writer. With a heart full of adolescent yearning and a mind questing for clues to life’s many puzzling questions, she’s principally preoccupied with the passing of her mother Luisa (Maria McKee), who died two years previous.
In Helena’s imagination, Luisa often returns to offer soothing words and sweet songs to calm her daughter’s anxiety. These visions mark a stark contrast with her father’s chaotic bo-ho lifestyle, which revolves around booze, pills and strippers from the nearby bar where he jams on the drums while backing up their routines. Helena isn’t religious, but she’s begun to question the existence of God in connection with her mother’s death, although Mickey is the casually cynical type who can’t even manage to provide his daughter with a few comforting words. His third DUI arrest starts forcing him to put things in perspective, but whether he can pull his life together for the sake of Helena is another question entirely.
Akin previously directed 2011’s little-known After the Triumph of Your Birth and with the exception of acting, he similarly assumes most of the responsibilities on his new micro-budget feature, but all of that control doesn’t amount to much with such an anemic script. In fact, the film is so short on incident that a clear narrative throughline doesn’t begin to ermerge until well into the second act. Blonna spends much of the first 40 minutes wandering aimlessly around Venice extemporizing in voiceover regarding her confused emotions. A fair portion of the remaining scenes is devoted to similar activities, but with a self-consciously carefree soundtracek replacing Helena’s musings. Sometimes Luisa uneventfully reappears so that her daughter can ask probing questions that lack definitive answers.
Young newcomer Blonna can’t be blamed for the film’s coming-of-age cliches, since she’s just following Akin’s direction. Dunne’s bloated blowhard Mickey quickly wears out his welcome with nearly unrelenting abrasiveness, although McKee has the opposite effect, barely making an impression as she repeats parental platitudes to Helena while cloaked in a gauzy white veil.
Production company: Shootist Films
Cast: Moriah Blonna, Tom Dunne, Maria McKee
Director-writer: Jim Akin
Producers: Jim Akin, Maria McKee
Director of photography: Jim Akin
Editor: Jim Akin
Music: Maria McKee
Not rated, 88 minutes