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July 24, 2021
Ithaca, NY | 80°F

Life & Culture

Review: Family adventure suffers from predictability

Finding 'Ohana

Ian Bryce Productions

In search of long-lost Spanish gold outside of Oahu, Hawaii, four kids become trapped in a dormant volcano and must use their wits to escape — all before their mom notices. “Finding Ohana” is a Netflix original family adventure movie that is not only a fun watch but is doused in Hawaiian culture and shares the story of reconnecting with one’s heritage.

Siblings Pili (Kea Peahu) and Ioane (Alex Aiono) return to Hawaii over a decade after they left for New York City in order to help their estranged grandfather when he suffers from a heart attack. The two fell out of touch with their Hawaiian heritage, barely being able to speak any Hawaiian or understand traditional customs. Pili and Ioane identify more with the urban jungle of New York City and spend the first act desperately wanting to return home. They later find out their mother is planning to sell their home in Brooklyn in order to cover their grandfather’s bills for his “kuleana,” his ancestral land. The true antagonist of this movie is Hawaiian property taxes.

The journey confronts the characters with aspects of Hawaiian culture. This both educates the audience and allows Pili and Ioane to reconnect with their heritage. One way this is signaled is through them gradually pronouncing Hawaii correctly with a “v” sound instead of a “w” sound and the stop between the two I’s. 

“Finding Ohana” is visually stunning, with the lush landscape and tropical setting of Hawaii adding a sense of beauty to many scenes. Something else the movie does excellently is foreshadowing. A particularly well-done case of foreshadowing is the scene with the night marchers, spirits of dead Hawaiian warriors that are after the group for breaking Hawaiian customs. 

A problem “Finding Ohana” struggles with is its predictability. Despite the smell of a hundredyearold mystery in the air, the narrative does not do much to surprise its viewers. The plot twists, character development and discoveries feel one-dimensional, like the macho guy jumping at the sight of a spider or an old rope bridge disintegrating on contact after someone says it looks safe.

Outside of Ioane’s reconnection with his heritage, his character development feels cheap, as it revolves around getting Hana (Lindsay Watson), a girl the siblings meet while in Hawaii, to catch feelings for him. Throughout the film, he changes how he acts so that she will like him more. Unsurprisingly, it is not until Ioane shows his true colors to Hana that she falls for him. All it took was an obsession with Meghan Trainor’s music for her to like him. 

At other points, the narrative isn’t descriptive enough. One of Pili’s favorite activities is geocaching, a treasure hunt that uses GPS and clues instead of maps. When Pili finds a notebook with a set of clues leading to a cache of Spanish gold, she sees it as an opportunity to solve her problems. However, “Finding Ohana” does not take the time to explain geocaching aside from saying Pili likes it. The activity is introduced with an action-packed opening scene showing her geocaching with friends. This may leave viewers confused over what is happening or what this scene means to the overarching narrative.

 “Finding Ohana” is a warm film. While it is a modern-day attempt at “The Goonies,” it is hard to say that it will have as long-lasting of an impact.

Alex Hartzog can be reached at ahartzog@ithaca.edu