Vague Visages’ Ocean Boy review contains minor spoilers. Tyler Atkins’ 2022 movie stars Luke Hemsworth, Isabel Lucas and Martin Sacks. Check out the VV home page for more film reviews, along with cast/character summaries, streaming guides and complete soundtrack song listings.
Coming-of-age films often overplay the nostalgia factor. I’m looking at you, Richard Linklater, with your audience-guiding 2014 movie Boyhood, an alleged classic that tells viewers exactly how to feel and when. Ocean Boy, an impressive feature debut from Tyler Atkins, cares little about proper communication etiquette. Set primarily in Australia’s glorious Byron Bay, the 2022 dramedy borrows the fundamental premise of the 1997 Italian classic La vita è Bella (Life Is Beautiful) — a father deceives his son in order to distract him from the unfortunate truth about their living conditions. In Ocean Boy, a marijuana farmer named Bosch (Luke Hemsworth) gets mixed up in a cocaine operation led by a local detective (Martin Sacks as Derek). He then hits the road with his son, Rockit (Rasmus King), a 13-year-old surfer with little life experience; a boy who genuinely believes that his father is an international spy.
Ocean Boy doesn’t have any crippling weak spots. The script, with its heavy profanity and low-key humor, pinpoints all the major personality traits of the main players. The cinematography, via Ben Nott, captures the totality of the New South Wales setting through fascinating overhead shots and multiple ocean-themed montages. And whereas the aforementioned Boyhood overloads the audience with pop songs — a way to reinforce obvious thematic messages — Ocean Boy’s needle-drops flow with the focal characters, beginning with David Bowie’s “Rebel Rebel.” Bosch and Rockit rebel against societal norms. They lean on each other for mutual support when surrounding forces push them around. But even though Rockit can ride a gnarly wave like a pro, he hasn’t quite learned why the ocean appeals to him so much. Ocean Boy peaks during superb acting changes from Hemsworth and King, both of whom sell a sense of existential despair and appreciation for life’s gifts.
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Ocean Boy features a supporting performance from Isabel Lucas (Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen), who unfortunately receives little screen time as Bosch’s love interest, Deb. On the bright side, the wonderful Savannah La Rain — an obvious star-in-the-making who recently appeared in the Netflix series Surviving Summer — steals numerous scenes as Rockit’s love interest, Ash-Ash. The character chemistry feels unnatural at times, but it works given the coming-of-age premise. Due to the overall likability factor of the main protagonists — even Hemsworth’s foul-mouthed father figure — the various montages feel more like complementary character portraits rather than lazy time-fillers.
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When tonal issues emerge in Ocean Boy, comedic moments wash away the dirt. Hemsworth is especially impressive when shifting between chest-thumping masculinity and downright shame. Similarly, Rockit’s profanity-laced outbursts feel authentic and sharp — he’s not just a kid imitating his dad. Heather Mitchell — who portrays Bosch’s alcoholic ex, Wendy — arguably delivers Ocean Boy’s most polished performance with her depiction of a self-centered and passive-aggressive mother. Incidentally, the strong character sketches inform viewers about Rockit’s evolving worldview and existential predicament. Surf and slack off? Or surf and see the truth? Ash-Ash functions as Rockit’s shining light and moral compass, a gift from Mother Earth.
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Ocean Boy is slightly more effective than True Spirit, a 2023 Netflix film about a teenager’s relationship with the ocean. Atkins’ coming-of-age character study rounds out its narrative with potent subplots, all of which strengthen the war of wits between the focal father and son. Rockit may be a naive and gullible teenage surfer, but what’s important is that he’s willing to be vulnerable and trusting with loved ones. The young King’s character interpretation is a major plus for Atkins’ debut feature.
Ocean Boy released in February 2023 via October Coast.
Q.V. Hough (@QVHough) is Vague Visages’ founding editor.
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