When The Ocean Met The Sky is well shot and strongly scored; however, its shallow characters squander any chance the premise has of justifying a feature length runtime.
Three brothers (Tyler, the lost artist; Dan, the responsible eldest; Jordan, the youngest, at the will of the other two) come together because of the death of their parents. After a brief catching up, their parents’ lawyer informs them they must complete a hike to obtain their inheritance. This doesn’t come as much of a surprise to them, as they all acknowledge their parents were “crazy / fun / eccentric / nuts.”
The lawyer gives the brothers the map with the travel route, created by their parents, and a journal. Inside the journal are a number of entries made by the father recounting the first time their mother brought him to the destination. This, in a film with a lot of half- realized material, is a solid device, and one that provides perspective for the audience. It is also supposed to provide perspective for the brothers, but they never seem to learn, and only want to bicker and call each other children.
The biggest problem with trip movies is they lack structure. If the characters aren’t deeply engaging then after the first or second major event the plot loses momentum. So the characters rehash the previous events, or worse they discuss events we haven’t seen, and never get to see. If all we’re left with is the dialogue, it must be precise, revealing, and interesting, otherwise the movie becomes a burden to watch.
For all the talking in this film – and there’s a lot – I don’t know much more about the characters than I did after the end of the first act, twenty minutes in. The parents were selfish and neglectful, which means Dan, the eldest, took on the guardian role. Tyler is a screw up and ungrateful to Dan for the responsibility he took on. Jordan was too young to remember any of this and is therefore (without meaning to be) ungrateful.
The film ends when the brothers reach their destination. Dan reads the last entry aloud and learns this spot is where their mother told their father she was pregnant with him. As someone who didn’t particularly enjoy the journey or its characters, this moment is moving.
I wish the entire film had been as well constructed as its ending.