“We live Aloha.”
There’s plenty to consider when comparing and describing the nostalgic inspirations behind Finding ‘Ohana, which never shies away from its obvious 80’s heritage and just so happens to be one of Netflix’s most undervalued and overlooked original films in recent memory. Everything about this film is familiar; plenty of stories have traversed this same path. But Finding ‘Ohana relocates the journey of self discovery to a new place with underrepresented faces, and adds in just enough modern flourish to rightfully be called one of the first dependable and easily recommended family films of this decade.
Raised in Brooklyn, the geocaching obsessed teen Pili (a breakout Kea Peahu) is less than eager to be spending Summer in O’ahu. After all, she’s supposed to be at a camp filling the spot she rightfully won in a citywide treasure hunt. Instead she’s stuck with her mother Leilani (Kelly Hu), who’s trying to sort out the financial woes of her own father Kimo (Branscomber Richmond) amid health issues. Always there to pester Pili is her big brother Ioane (Alex Aiono), refusing to go by his birth name because nobody in New York can pronounce it. In a poignant yet tragic moment, we figure out Pili knows Spanish not because she wanted to learn the language, but because her peers assumed she was Latina, and it was easier to play the part. Finding ‘Ohana may be a basic swashbuckler built for teens, yet there are still plenty of honest revelations layered throughout to make it resonate, and enough mindfulness to make the many homages relevant for audiences in the streaming era.
Deeply entrenched in the mythology of Indiana Jones’ archaeology, Finding ‘Ohana uses that figurehead as a groundwork for Pili’s pillage towards cultural identification on her home island, and tells its story through the same structure – and many of the same beats, even showcasing a now grown up cast member in Ke Huy Quan who played Data – as Richard Donner’s The Goonies. In fact, the whimsical screenplay from Christina Strain and the parallel direction by Jude Weng leans heavily into the themes of that 80’s touchstone. The film has a smaller cast – rounded out by the aptly named Casper (Owen Vaccaro) and the strong supporting woman Hana (Lindsay Watson) – than Donner’s film did, and yet its gaps are filled in by the tried and true tropes we’ve learned over the years. It’s memorable even though the plot is never exactly groundbreaking, and the characters represent how easily old stories can adapt to the present, giving new faces an opportunity to shine and shed light on a culture that’s so much more than a destination diversion.
You’ll never find me heralding Finding ‘Ohana as a great film, let alone much of an original one, but you’ll always hear me embracing its charm and wit and ability to be familiar yet so totally and tonally different. Every piece and part of this picture can be traced back to The Goonies, and yet the film – deftly directed by Jude Weng and carefully updated by writer Christin Strain – still manages to tastefully manufacture its own identity for those watching today. And yet through spelunking adventures and historical scenes gleefully fueled by a PG brand of Comedy Central’s Drunk History, the always surprising Finding ‘Ohana hits hardest during all of the action when it reflects on the point and the poignancy of feeling at home when you know you’ve found home. This one’s an absolute blast from the past in the best of ways.
“There is no treasure. The book is the treasure.”
Rating: 4 out of 5