Throughout the eons of human existence, few things in our nature (and indeed, the nature of other species on our planet) have proved to be as assiduous in ambition and execution as the love a mother has for her child. Whether it’s a parent scrambling in confusion from the chaos of losing her son in an airport or a YouTube video of a rabbit attacking a snake after it invades her nest and kills her kits, we are frequently observing more and more examples of the burning instinctual passion a mother has for her own.
Which is why, on paper, The Light Between Oceans should have all the heft and ferocity of a great American landmark. And perhaps, on paper, in the form of the literary source material, it has; but Derek Cianfrance’s film adaptation achieves no such status.
Cianfrance, who previously helmed the terrific Blue Valentine and the not-so-terrific The Place Beyond the Pines, makes a visible effort here in bringing to life the story of a down-on-their-luck couple living on a small island who discover a child lost at sea and spontaneously decide to take her in as their own. Regrettably, the hackneyed plot is just enough to make one wonder just why the hell such talented people are working with it in the first place.
It’s impossible to know whether M.L. Stedman’s 2012 novel would have been better if translated by another filmmaker, but this sappy PG-13 melodrama plays more like a Lifetime Channel Original with prettier actors than anything from an acclaimed director of R-rated morality tales. This isn’t to say that adapting this romance for the screen was a bad move by Cianfrance, who is clearly a talented artist, but maybe something this soapy should’ve been reserved for someone… not so talented. As various scenes of discomfort are met with the methodically placed sounds of the calming ocean waves splashing in the background, and as the camera constantly put an emphasis on the setting which the title draws its flare from and allowed the main players to show off their acting chops, I couldn’t help but wonder (and, by the end of it, appreciate) the fact that such a just-okay story was brought to life with deliberate sincerity.
Alicia Vikander is profoundly effacious in the role of the mother who finds her daughter, while Rachel Weisz is just as good as the mother who lost the very same daughter. Of course, when these plot lines converge, the script takes off, and it does have an affectionate third act which I liked very much, but the road until then feels like subpar, Saturday afternoon fare with talented performers who are a bit too talented.
All of this said, Derek Cianfrance has crafted a Lifetime Original far superior to any other film that would’ve been made had Lifetime actually acquired the rights to the book.
That’s for damn sure.