Directed by: Kristen McGary
Starring: Skyler Day, Keith Carradine, Mare Winningham, Jasmine Sky, Tom Key, John Lawhorn
This nice little movie may be of more interest locally than it will be otherwise, since it's set in Asheville (though shot in Atlanta), and feature's our town's own Jasmine Sky in a key supporting role.
Based on the novel A Flower Blooms on Charlotte Street by Milam McGraw Propst, the story details the adventures of young Ociee Nash (Day), who is sent from rural Mississippi in the 1890s by her father (Keith Carradine) to the home of her aunt (Mare Winningham), in order to teach Ociee how to be a lady. The screenplay was adapted by director Kristen McGary and her sister, Amy, both of whom previously have worked in the realm of set decoration -- and this clearly shows in the finished film.
Visually, Ociee Nash is a pleasant surprise -- especially for a low-budget independent movie. Not only does it generally convey a sense of its period setting, but McGary shows a keen eye for what looks good or is visually arresting. The scenes on the train taking Ociee to Asheville are finely achieved; like most of the movie, they're boosted through being shot in -- or, in this case, on -- real locations. This provides the film with abundant natural light, creating a very distinctive and inviting look throughout: Ociee Nash genuinely seems to be infused with sunlight, and often has the feel of a warm summer's day.
Unfortunately, first-time director McGary often seems less certain of herself when handling the film's drama (though some of this can be blamed on the limited budget); occasionally, though, she evidences a real feeling for filmmaking -- as in one impressive crane shot near movie's end.
Budgetary limitations certainly factor into the film's less-successful moments -- notably the sparse crowd of Ashevillians at the film's climactic celebration, and the movie's big fire scene. Understandably, the budget did not extend to actually torching a house, nor to any very elaborate pyrotechnics; however, there were definitely more effective ways of handling the "raging inferno" than McGary chose, since the conflagration looks more like the world's first five-alarm fire involving azaleas. When it's subsequently noted that the family will soon be able to move back into their home, the effect is ... well, unintentionally funny.
There are also story problems; I presume these go back to the novel, which seems to be heading in one direction and then changes gears to become something else again. While on her journey to Asheville, Ociee listens to famous newspaper reporter Nelly Bly (Donna Wright) tell of her adventures at her trade. Then she meets up with President McKinley (Daniel Burnley), and inadvertently hands him a useful catch-phrase. Arriving in Asheville, she bumps into Orville Wright (Sean Daniels) and his brother, Wilbur (Ty Pennington), and accidentally clues the pair in on how to make their airplane fly. (At this point in the narrative, someone a few rows back remarked, "Run, Forrest, run!" -- an apt-enough comment, since the story was beginning to feel like Forrest Gump with pigtails).
For some reason, though, this approach is quickly dropped in favor of a more-or-less-more realistic Pollyanna variant (the script dearly loves a coincidence, somewhat undermining the realism). The shift is too sudden and too distracting to quite work, and the film has trouble regaining its pacing. Nonetheless, it's a game effort that wisely doesn't overstay its welcome.
Also, for an independent film of this type, the acting -- largely by unknowns, with the exceptions of Carradine, Winningham and TV carpenter Ty Pennington -- is of an unusually high caliber. The two girls -- Skyler Day and Jasmine Sky -- are both very good, and have strong screen presences; they go a long way toward making Ociee Nash work.
Though marketed as a children's movie, I have a suspicion that this is a film that will find greater appeal with adults who like movies about children than it will with youngsters raised on considerably more flamboyant fare. That said, there's certainly nothing wrong with exposing kids to the more genteel drama of the kind depicted here.
-- reviewed by Ken Hanke