ARCADIA (director/writer: Olivia Silver; screenwriter: based on the short film “Little Canyon”; cinematographer: Eric Lin; editor:  Jennifer Lee; music:  The Low Anthem; cast: John Hawkes (Tom), Ryan Simpkins (Greta), Kendall Toole (Caroline), Ty Simpkins (Nat), Mary Pat Gleason (Agnes, waitress); Runtime: 91; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Julien Favre/ Silenn Thomas; Film Movement; 2012)

"The story is too slight to go the full distance of 3,000 miles cross-country without this viewer losing some interest."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Olivia Silver's debut feature indie film as writer-director has a few good moments of domestic volatility but the story is too slight to go the full distance of 3,000 miles cross-country without this viewer losing some interest.  It's a road trip movie, shot on Super-16, about a dysfunctional family leaving at the crack of dawn their New England home to move to Arcadia, California, to find paradise. Testy dad, Tom (John Hawkes), packs into his older dented family station wagon the 12-year-old Greta (Ryan Simpkins), the cynical older teenage daughter Caroline (Kendall Toole) and the 9-year-old Nat (Ty Simpkins, real-life sibling of Ryan). During the long ride dad in upbeat moments tells stories, boasts about his new West Coast job and paints a pretty picture of the house they will live in. The kids believe mom will join them somewhere on the trip to California, but as they trek on grow wary when unable to reach her by phone at her sister's house.

Things are seen through the eyes of the still childish and innocent Greta, who becomes increasingly alarmed that she can't contact mom by phone and soon resents dad's violent mood swings and openly challenges him for lying. While Nat remains excited about visiting the Grand Canyon and Caroline ponders who will be her next boyfriend.

Warning: spoiler in the next two paragraphs.

The ride becomes most unpleasant when Tom gets out of control over a number stressful situations. Tension reaches max at the Grand Canyon, when the argumentative dad refuses to pay the $49 entry fee to see the national treasure and reneges on his promise to Nat to visit the site. This leaves Nat crying and Greta becomes so upset that dad kicks her out of the car on a deserted road, but soon comes to his senses and returns to pick her up. They eventually reach their California destination after several more unpleasant situations, and things take on an eerie sense of normalcy when they all realize mom is unable to join them, dad begins work at his new job and the kids go to school.

John Hawkes gives a complex performance channeling both the "good and bad dad," while Ryan Simpkins gets our attention as the confused innocent, totting around a bunny doll, who seems lost on the journey and in need of a few hugs from dad instead of all the grief she gets. The actors make the most out of the material they were given, and the pic works best as a dicey coming-of-age story. The director does a good job letting us see how the kids, under trying circumstances, must learn about life the hard way.

REVIEWED ON 7/11/2013       GRADE: B-

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"