Finley Sinclair (Rose Reid), the lead character of Finding You, has one of those “John Matrix” names. Names you only hear in the movies, or as is the case here, novels that movies are based on.
Unfortunately, Finley’s strange name is one of the more interesting aspects of this greeting-card romance that has a lot going on, but not a lot of it original.
When Finding You begins, Finley is at a crossroads in her life. The film’s opening sequence sees her fail to impress a panel of judges with her violin playing at the entrance exam for a prestigious New York music school.
Faced with a many-months wait before another opportunity to audition, Finley has time to kill. Following in her brother’s footsteps she embarks on a study-abroad program to Ireland, swapping New York for Carlingford, a great cinematic contrast if ever there was one.
On the flight over, Finley butts heads with a teen heart-throb actor, Beckett Rush (Jedidiah Goodacre), who is traveling to Ireland to work on the next in a series of successful fantasy films.
No prizes for guessing that Beckett is going to play a larger role in Finley’s new life in Carlingford. Two people with improbable names can’t stay separated for long. So, it goes that Finley’s host family, who’ve recently opened a B&B, are housing Beckett as well.
So tried and true is Finding You’s approach to onscreen romance that it barely registers. The moment that Finley realises she’s serving her newfound nemesis (but soon to be lover) breakfast just about raises a smile. Most of the other aspects of the Sinclair/Rush relationship are met with a groan.
There are the usual obstacles. Rush’s public relations-governed persona getting in the way of the young movie star’s personal relations. Finley’s own distrust of movie-star types, which is often mentioned but never really explained. And, of course, there’s the typical mid-movie romantic misunderstanding,
Will they? Won’t they? They will? We know they will!
There are other distractions running alongside the highs and lows of young love. Finley’s schooling involves her taking a course in something the film calls “Irish Studies”, the main component of which is community service at a local nursing home.
There Finley gets involved in the family drama of Cathleen Sweeney (Vanessa Redgrave), an angry old woman long estranged from her younger sister. This subplot would be enough for a whole film in and of itself, but Finding You takes a needlessly thorough and excessive approach to its material.
The script is overstuffed with subplots and threads, all of which are seen through to their conclusion, making a film that’s just shy of two hours feel like it’s been playing for twenty-four hours straight.
Typically, a script with this much going on would leave some plots dangling, some elements underdeveloped, but there’s no such luck with Finding You’s relentless storytelling. It’s not subtle. At all. The adage of “show don’t tell” doesn’t apply here. This is “show and tell” filmmaking at its most rigorous.
As well as falling in love and helping Cathleen, Finley is also hunting for a gravestone that her brother sketched in a notebook four years ago and there’s a fleadh coming up too. Then there’s Seamus, a gifted fiddle player and local vagrant who takes Finley under his wing to help her shed those big-city inhibitions and play her violin from the heart.
As is to be expected, some of these stories are more engaging than others. Patrick Bergin’s performance as Seamus is warm and heartfelt. His avuncular characterisation plays well against Rose Reid’s lost soul in search of something, anything! Both do a good job of pretending to play their instruments in a convincing manner.
Vanessa Redgrave’s performance does much of the heavy lifting with the Cathleen Sweeney subplot. As foregone as the conclusion to the Sweeney story is, it still manages to be affecting because of Redgrave, who gives the role more than it really deserves.
What’s puzzling is the lack of emphasis given to the brother subplot. It’s used to ramp up the emotion here and there, but mostly comes off as an afterthought.
When we do come back to Finley’s sketchbook-led search, it feels rushed-through and doesn’t pay off in a manner that’s fitting of the title. Some of this comes down to the overall busyness of the script, but it’s also a problem with Finding You’s style.
Brian Baugh’s direction isn’t flashy. Some of the film’s more amusing sequences take place on the set of Beckett Rush’s fantasy film, which plays up Ireland’s long-running onscreen relationship with dragons. Budgetary constraints inadvertently nod to this too, as the CG dragons seen in these sequences look straight out of Wicklow’s own Reign of Fire.
That these “film within a film” sequences stand out like they do, unremarkable and drab as they are, speaks to a general flatness in Baugh’s treatment of the material. This flatness takes varied locations like Carlingford, the Cliffs of Moher and Drimnagh Castle and melts them into one amorphous blob called “Ireland”.
With the recent trauma of Wild Mountain Thyme still fresh in the mind, Finding You’s flattened view of the country is all the worse. At least John Patrick Shanley had the decency to serve up cliches with demented, full-throttle energy.
Finding You is available now via Sky, NowTV and Amazon Prime Video.