Metacritic (5/10), Letterboxd (2.5/5), Imdb.com (5/10)
I feel somewhat guilty criticizing a picture that seems to have its heart in the right place but that just isn’t very good. Such is the case with director Robert Connolly’s latest, an earnest but schmaltzy, predictable, uneven offering that addresses noble sentiments but isn’t put together well. The film tells the story of Abby (Mia Wasikowska), a marine biologist who’s called away from her coral reef studies to care for her aging mother, Dora (Elizabeth Alexander), when she suffers a debilitating stroke that has left her unable to speak. Upon Abby’s return home to her Western Australia coastal community of Longboat Bay, she reflects back on how her mother got her interested in oceanography, particularly through her efforts to establish a local marine preserve. This part of the story is told through extensive flashbacks featuring Abby’s younger self (Ariel Donoghue, Ilsa Fogg) and a youthful Dora (Radha Mitchell) in their efforts to protect the bay from illegal fishing and potentially damaging waterfront development, especially after they meet and “befriend” a large wild blue grouper that Abby names Blueback. The film thus raises and addresses an array of issues related to environmentalism, ecological stewardship and cross-species relations, as well as following one’s passions and walking one’s walk. Unfortunately, the flashbacks dominate the narrative so much that the story thread that launches the picture feels more like an afterthought, one in which Wasikowska almost could have phoned in her part. And, as for the content that makes up the bulk of this release’s screen time, it comes across as laudable and well-meaning but a little too obvious and preachy, playing more like the script of an “After School Special” or material based on a selection from an all-girls’ Young Adult reading group. The somewhat insipid treatment of this story tends to undercut this release’s other strengths, such as its gorgeous underwater cinematography and the value of the messages it’s seeking to impart. Some might say the foregoing sounds cruelly and heavy-handedly cynical, but at least it’s honest, all good intentions aside.