Sunday, February 25, 2024

Seagrass - Movie Review

The Movie: Seagrass

The Director: Meredith Hama-Brown

The Cast: Ally Maki, Luke Roberts, Chris Pang, Sarah Gadon, Nyha Breitkreuz, Remy Marthaller

The Story: A Japanese-Canadian woman grapples with the death of her mother as she brings her family to a retreat. When her relationship with her husband begins to affect the children's emotional security, the family is changed forever.

The Rating: 8 / 10

The Review:
Meredith Hama-Brown's feature directorial debut is a very well thought out dissection of relationships, specifically within a marriage, and how race can have a constant undercurrent and influence on people's lives who come from diverse backgrounds. I'm starting here because this is really where the film is at it's best, within the layers of messaging because the story doesn't hit you over the head with a big, dramatic event, it's more like Hama-Brown is slowly and subtly revealing casual, yet no less impactful, moments for the viewer to take in.

Watching Ally Maki, a Pacific Northwest native who was born and raised here in Kirkland Washington, as Judith, I feel like she must have jumped at the opportunity to play this character, a Japanese Canadian woman, and probably had a fair amount of input in her own right. Last year, Greta Lee mentioned repeatedly what an amazing opportunity it was as a Korean American to be able to play a character in Past Lives who existed as a human being without race defining her story and I feel like Maki might have that same sense of appreciation here.

As I mentioned, the core of the story revolves around the issues Judith and her husband Steve, played by Luke Roberts, have been dealing with and that remains the crux of the narrative, especially the effect it has on their kids Stephanie and Emmy who are brilliantly brought to life by Nyha Huang Breitkreuz and Remy Marthaller respectively. Seriously, these kids are so good, there were many times, I was more engaged in their story over what any of the adults were dealing with.

There are so many layers and so much depth to the story, I really don't know if I'm smart enough to take a deep dive into all of it, but what I do know, is the whole thing was very engaging from start to finish and a lot of that also had to do with all of the acting performances across the board. One thing that really jumped out for me was how all of the conversations were so natural and authentic which I feel is owed equally to the writing and the acting performances. This might be Hama-Brown's first feature film but there's no doubt that she is a highly skilled flmmaker and it's clear she knows what she's doing both from a technical perspective and also when it comes to the more artistic sensibilities of making a movie.

On that note, I also have to say that every single frame of film is absolutely gorgeous, partly because of the director's efforts and partly because filming a movie here in the lush landscapes of the Pacific Northwest is always going to give stunning results. Unless I'm mistaken, I believe all or most of the movie was filmed in the Canadian province of British Columbia which is a northerly neighbor to where I live here in the Seattle area of Washington state. Also credit to cinematographer Norm Li who has nearly 20 years worth of credits to his name on IMDB. 

What I love most about the director's visual style is how the scenery plays just as much a part in fleshing out the emotional turmoil as anything else with distinct visual cues and musical backdrops that add punctuation to already tense or dreary moments. The filmmakers intentionally hold on what might seem something totally mundane and insignificant, like worms stretched out on wet ground or the darkness inside of a beachfront cave, but it all makes sense within the context of how the story is woven together.

The one thing I don't want to convey is that this might be a dreary and depressing slog of a movie and it really isn't that at all. Sure, the subject matter can be a bit heavy although every bit of it unfolds in a very engaging and relatable way. It's the type of film you can see yourself in even though you might not directly relate with the characters themselves because what shines through the most is the humanity that comes from our flaws and areas where we might need or want to grow.

I really hope this film finds an audience that stretches well beyond its award winning film festival run. Everyone involved with making the movie has earned a chance to have their efforts rewarded whether it be through box office numbers, positive reviews, or just a round of applause from an audience showing their genuine appreciation for what went in to bringing such a necessary and well thought out story to life. Go see this movie.

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