Buried deep within the atrocious romantic comedy “Finding You” is the moving story of a dying woman’s quest for forgiveness and a familial reconciliation before her passing. Anchored by a powerhouse performance by legend Vanessa Redgrave, the compelling narrative explores the culture of small Irish towns and the weights of sacrifice and soiled reputation.
Unfortunately, that is not what the film is about, as this storyline only takes up a small fraction of the film’s brutal two-hour runtime. Instead, focus is given to a charmless “Notting Hill” ripoff with shades of “Leap Year,” following one of the most charmless and dull protagonists to ever grace the screen of a rom-com.
For a seemingly straightforward romantic comedy following a normal girl and a Hollywood heartthrob falling in love in a pretty setting, the plot is astonishingly complicated. The abundance of loosely interconnected subplots prevent any from being adequately developed to the point where major storylines introduced near the beginning are dropped for the majority of the runtime, only to be reintroduced near the end, by which time I had nearly forgotten their importance or relevance.
Finley Sinclair (Rose Reid) travels to Ireland on a study abroad program to find her purpose in life and reconnect with the memory of her late brother. Or maybe it’s because she needs time to prepare for an audition for a prestigious music school. It doesn’t really matter, the script never makes up its mind one way or the other.
On her flight over, she is seated next to teen heartthrob Beckett Rush (Jedidiah Goodacre), who instantly decides he is interested in the protagonist despite sort of dating his longtime costar. Depending on the scene, he either wants to quit acting to have a normal life or become a more serious actor able to give a better performance than the shallow theatrics expected for his campy dragon franchise.
The lack of clarity for the two central characters’ motivations is a telling sign for the film’s narrative focus as a whole. As the film aimlessly wanders around, several plot lines float around partially developed without anything connecting the narratives aside from Finley’s involvement.
Each subplot on its own, paired with better writing, could have developed into a solid movie. But when forced in together, no arc has room to breathe, leaving only the shallowest of development for fairly interesting ideas.
One such story follows Finley’s community service assignment for her university program (the only reminder that she’s abroad for school and the only class she is ever shown attending). Finley must spend time with Cathleen (Redgrave, who deserves better than this), a senior citizen from the village.
Cathleen is a bitter woman ostracized for alleged sins of her past. When Finley discovers Cathleen is dying, she endeavors to help Cathleen find closure and reunite with her estranged sister. This story works where the rest of the film fails, thanks in no small part to Redgrave’s moving performance. This movie is not worthy of her talents, but she brings incredible humanity and depth to her underwritten character.
She is likewise the only character that created a genuine emotional reaction, and the only storyline in which I had any investment in the outcome. Had the film focused on this relationship, it may have been watchable, and maybe even moving. Instead, Cathleen is afforded just a handful of scenes so the lovers could spend more time traipsing around the Irish countryside trading unfunny banter with nonexistent chemistry.
Reid is so bad in the lead role that I was positive she was only cast due to her exemplary violin skills. Except she actually had to study the violin upon being cast. Nevertheless, Reid is not entirely at fault for her boring, unbelievable turn, as the character of Finley is absurdly one-note and boring, even by rom-com standards.
She has no personality, aside from a requisite tragic backstory, innocuous enough so as to not alienate anyone but just tragic enough to replace the need for an identity. Finley almost seems like a parody of the blank-slate heroines that populate some female-oriented media. She oscillates between three surface-level emotions: joyfully wide-eyed, tearful, and narcissistically frustrated, and Reid fails to find any depths beyond what’s on the page.
Goodacre fares no better as love-interest Beckett. His grounded charmer schtick is more insufferable than alluring, and he lacks the charisma and dashing good looks required to render him believable as a heartthrob constantly fending off hordes of teenaged fans. He likewise lacks the dramatic chops to pull off Beckett’s more tortured side, so his loneliness comes off more as boredom.
Since the script waits to flesh out his substitution for a motivation until the final half-hour, he spends much of the film introducing our heroine to Irish culture and landmarks, providing them picturesque locations to do what the screenplay thinks is flirting.
Had Beckett been a local who made it big sharing his culture with Finley, these sequences could have been imbued with a personal touch and provided insight into the male lead and his background. But no, he’s an American just like her. His claims of understanding Irish culture due to filming a few movies in the country has the frustrating vibe of an insufferable college student newly returned from a study abroad.
The novel upon which the film is based has far more religious overtones, which are almost entirely excised from the movie, barring one reference to prayer at the films’ outset and several crosses strewn through cemeteries. Centering the film through a Christian lens may have helped create the connectivity the film sorely lacked.
Taking place in a famously Catholic country and ostensibly covering themes of death, redemption, refraining from judgment, and finding one’s purpose, the religious subtext could write itself. Further, it could have given the film the forward momentum it desperately needed.
It is almost impressive how incompetent the film is on every level. With a good friend and a healthy sense of humor, the film could be enjoyable as an object of mockery. Seeing it alongside a close friend and laughing our way through the horrific writing, poor acting, and strange storytelling turned the unwatchable film into an ironic delight.
However, unless you are explicitly seeking a movie to laugh at, don’t waste the ticket price; this one deserves to be skipped.
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