By Hafsah T. Shaik
As many have discovered in the past year, family is tough, but family is important. “Finding Ohana” shows us the adventurous journey of a family with clashing dynamics.
The movie begins with Pili (Kea Peahu), a 12-year-old adventurer, finding herself in Hawaii with her mom Leilani (Kelly Hu), and her older brother Ioane (Alex Aiono – yes, Alex Aiono, the famous 24-year-old Youtube singer). Pili’s grandfather, Papa (Branscombe Richmond), had a heart attack and while Leilani wants to look after him, there is uneasiness between them. To make matters worse, Pili and Ioane—who do not get along very well—are completely disconnected with Hawaiian culture. Even though they were born there, they only know life in Brooklyn.
Pili is originally disappointed; as a geocaching enthusiast she misses camp and her friends. But, she is thrown into an exciting adventure when she finds an old journal with descriptions of a treasure hunt. Pili, Ioane, and two friends they find along the way, Casper (Owen Vaccaro), and Hana (Lindsay Watson), begin to look for the treasure, not only for the excitement but also to help their grandfather’s difficult financial situation.
The treasure hunt is full of excitement and gives off “Tomb Raider” crossed with “Indiana Jones” vibes, but with a childish twist. Think live-action “Dora.” The kids go through mountains and tunnels, crossing over a pit of lava using a dinky bridge, and following a path covered in skulls and skeletons of what seem like pirates from centuries ago.
As the kids embark on their treasure hunt, the movie shifts focus onto the many family conflicts. Pili and Ioane continue to clash and must resolve their issues as their lives depend on it. Back home, Leilani and Papa fight about Papa’s health and his dire financial situation. Some issues between Leilani and the kids are also risen, as it appears Leilani was less present in her children’s lives after their father died.
Throughout their adventure, Pili and Ioane become much closer, and by the end they’ve formed a bond that can withstand their little bouts. The adventure also teaches the two more about Hawaiian culture, and the gang as a whole understands that the adventure and what they’ve learned is worth more than the treasure.
The movie ends less smoothly, with the kids’ relationship with their mom not fully being recovered. This was one of many loose ends, and I wish they touched upon it more. I would like to know more about their father (Leilani’s husband), and how their lives were in the years after his death. They indicated earlier in the movie that Leilani really threw herself into her work, so getting to know about her a little more would be nice.
I also wanted a little more from the cultural representation. I really appreciate the attempt at highlighting Hawaiian culture, which we got from the movie, and it was really nice to see the two main characters connect more with their culture. However, they definitely could have dug a little deeper into their family’s heritage and more intimate cultural references. Again, an attempt was made, but not executed to the fullest.
Overall, the movie was nice to watch with family. As a college student, I do not think I would have any strong desire to watch the movie alone, unless I was a big Alex Aiono fan from a few years ago. However, watching it with my younger brother was a learning experience. It was nice because both of us could relate in some sense to the respective older and younger characters, and so watching them bond and understand each other’s differences reminded us of the empathy we should maintain towards each other.
Although “Finding Ohana” centered around a physical adventure, the true magic was the family bonds that were healed and the connection to Hawaiian culture that Pili and Ioane made.