Monday, August 09, 2004

The Adventures of Ociee Nash

I've let this review languish as a draft for two weeks, so it's high time it saw the light of day.

THE ADVENTURES OF OCIEE NASH (Kristen McGary, 2003)

Golly, it sure is mighty hard to shred a mild, well-meaning movie like THE ADVENTURES OF OCIEE NASH, but durn it all for being the sort of picture that gives the G-rated family film a bad reputation. The content is unobjectionable, which is all well and good, but watching this is like swallowing castor oil.

Nine-year-old tomboy Ociee Nash (Skyler Day) isn’t the least bit interested in being a proper young lady. The farm girl prefers dungarees to frilly dresses and horseplay with her brother over playing with dolls. Her mother is deceased, which leaves her father (Keith Carradine) concerned about the lack of female influence in her life. Her aunt Mamie (Mare Winningham) concurs, so Ociee is sent from rural Mississippi to live with her in Asheville, North Carolina.

Ociee’s 1898 adventures lead her to some Forrest Gump-like encounters. She meets Nellie Bly and helps solve an engineering dilemma the Wright Brothers are having with their flying machine. (TRADING SPACES fans will recognize carpenter Ty Pennington, who plays Wilbur Wright. He’s on screen for a minute tops.) Much is also made of Ociee inspiring President William McKinley’s saying “make haste slowly”. It struck me as an arcane quote, especially for a children‘s film. I wouldn't have paid any attention to it, but the film dwells on the line, going so far as to repeat it and having McKinley take note of the saying. Either the filmmakers didn’t do their research or assumed no one would realize that it comes from his March 4, 1897 inauguration speech. (Check the second paragraph.)

Ociee takes to her new home like a duck to water, even if she initially grouses about the wardrobe change that her dressmaking aunt institutes. She makes a new friend and helps a carriage driver woo prim Aunt Mamie. Except for missing her father and brothers, life in Asheville isn’t significantly different for Ociee. Which is precisely the problem. THE ADVENTURES OF OCIEE NASH is terribly dull because, for its approximate 100 minutes, it is virtually conflict-free.

Adapted from the book A FLOWER BLOOMS ON CHARLOTTE STREET, the film takes a methodical approach, breaking the non-action into distinct chapters. I can’t say how the film compares to the novel, but if you were reading this, you wouldn’t have a compelling reason to continue turning pages. Ociee is well adjusted and agreeable. Her penchant for climbing trees is what passes for mischievous behavior. While a MY FAIR LADY transformation might be anticipated and is briefly suggested, such work appears unnecessary. It isn’t imperative that Ociee should be deeply troubled, that she’s stealing from the general store and crying herself to sleep every night, but conflict is the storytelling engine. As admirable and desirable as good behavior and a relatively stress-free life are, these qualities alone don’t generate interesting viewing.

The title possibly suggests a parallel with Mark Twain’s THE ADVENTURES OF TOM SAWYER. THE ADVENTURES OF OCIEE NASH doesn’t come close to being as involving as Twain’s novel--an unfair comparison, to be sure--however, it inadvertently adheres to Twain’s introductory admonition to readers. He began the classic book with the warning that “persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot.” Ociee Nash lacks motive and plot. While it upholds wholesomeness and good behavior, it lacks a concrete moral. Twain also mastered writing in dialect. THE ADVENTURES OF OCIEE NASH attempts to reflect the times, loaded as it is with southern aphorisms and slang, but the results are forced and clunky.

THE ADVENTURES OF OCIEE NASH was made in 2002 and is now rolling out regionally. Those in the Columbus area would do better to see HER MAJESTY, a 2001 film that played as part of the Drexel’s Summer Kids’ Series and is currently enjoying a regular engagement. In HER MAJESTY, a New Zealand girl befriends a Maori woman whose ramshackle home the townsfolk consider an eyesore, particularly with Queen Elizabeth’s imminent visit. The main characters in OCIEE NASH and HER MAJESTY are virtuous, but in HER MAJESTY it means something. Those without access to HER MAJESTY have better options in two great, overlooked films A LITTLE PRINCESS, from director Alfonso Cuaron, and Robert Mulligan’s THE MAN IN THE MOON.

Grade: D

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