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'The Ocean of Helena Lee' is narratively thin and strained

'The Ocean of Helena Lee,' with pretty images and a driving score, follows form

Set in Venice Beach, the fractured family movie "The Ocean of Helena Lee" is musician-writer-director Jim Akin's strained ode to the mysteries, fears and joys of uncertain childhood.

Helena (newcomer Moriah Blonna) is a precociously philosophical 12-year-old who sleeps in the closet of her surf rat and strip club drummer dad's apartment, forever mourning the death of her nurturing mother (singer-songwriter Maria McKee, seen as a veiled apparition). Helena's also a budding writer who wanders the sands, sidewalks and crevices of freak-show Venice, musing aloud (through narration or directly to others) Life's Big Questions or saying things like, "I'm contemplating the ideal woman," and "I like to learn. I don't like to be taught."

Dad (Tom Dunne) is no less grounded a character, since he only pontificates ("I recommend slowing time down") or carouses with the club's female performers.

Unless you're on this spiritually noodling movie's wavelength — an easier proposition when the great McKee is singing (she wrote the music with Akin) — this is narratively thin, tone-poem stuff: pretty images of raggedly beautiful L.A. set to a driving score, with emotions always at a music-video remove.

"The Ocean of Helena Lee."

No MPAA rating.

Running time: 1 hour, 28 minutes.

Playing: Egyptian, Hollywood.

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