Musician and photographer Jim Akin’s second feature, “The Ocean of Helena Lee,” finds its titular 12-year-old heroine pondering the meaning of life amid the nonstop spectacle of Venice Beach culture, while living with a widowed father who’s not much more reliable than a beach bum himself. This plotless reverie is easy to admire texturally, including an original soundtrack composed with the helmer’s spouse, singer-songwriter Maria McKee. But despite those virtues, and the pic’s determinedly idiosyncratic take on autobiographically inspired material, most viewers will find the script’s narrative shapelessness and pretentiously poetic dialogue hard to take. The American Cinematheque is hosting screenings at Hollywood and Santa Monica venues through May 14; further exposure is likely to be modest.
Two years after the death of her mother, Helena (Moriah Blonna) is still grappling with that loss, imaging Mom’s consoling presence (played by McKee) to plug the parenting gaps left by dad Micky (Tom Dunne). The latter is a sometime musician with a sometime-stripper girlfriend (Kristina Keyia). But mostly he doesn’t seem to do much of anything, and Helena pretty much sums up the majority progress here with “All I do is wander around trying to feel OK.”
Something finally happens after nearly an hour, as Micky suffers a DUI arrest that might actually send him to prison. But when daughter confronts father about the toll his carelessness is taking on her, the scene’s dramatic impact is — like nearly every scene here — undercut by the affected boho poesy of the dialogue. That also encompasses the protag’s voiceover narration, in which she incessantly muses on God, eternity, death and so forth. Not to mention Dad’s insufferable (as well as unhelpful) wisdoms, which view life as “A million bitchin’ sunsets bellyflop(ping) into the ocean,” “A tidal wave of ouch,” “A wild ride on a condemned roller-coaster,” etc.
A little of this goes a long way, and 87 minutes of it is very long indeed. Creating a polished package as practically a one-man crew, Akin has a fine eye that makes the most of Venice’s colorful sights, and the score of instrumental music and songs composed with McKee (and played with thesp Dunne) is diversely interesting if incessant. But no actors could fully pull off the ponderous verbiage they’re asked to mouth here, with character development barely on the agenda. Those who find the woozier passages in Terrence Malick’s recent films enthralling stand the best chance of grokking “Ocean’s” wavelength.