Margo Crane’s odyssey on the Stark River introduces her to a world filled with wonders and dangers.
Based on an acclaimed 2011 novel, ‘Once Upon a River’ is a classic slice of Americana set in rural Michigan in the 1970s. It follows a teenage Native American girl who embarks on a solo journey down the Stark river after a tragedy forces her to go on the run. Along the way she encounters various people, some more supportive than others, as she tries to track down her estranged mother. I’ve always been drawn to stories like this with the movement of the river acting as an overt metaphor for the journey Margo (debutant Kenadi DelaCerna) goes on over the course of the film, and I thought this was a very solid debut for director Haroula Rose.
When we first meet Margo she lives with her father on a large plot of land within a small community. It’s one of these communities where everyone knows everyone, a lot of the inhabitants are related in one way or another, and its tough for Margo who as a Native American girl, is different from most others in the community. A significant event occurs early on that has repercussions for everyone involved and that leads her to head off on the run in search of her mother, using the skills and smarts she’s developed to travel alone and survive on her instincts and her wits. This intro may make ‘Once Upon a River’ appear to be a crime drama where Margo tries to evade the law, but it’s actually more of a coming of age movie where Margo learns a lot about herself and about others through her experiences. Kenadi DelaCerna is impressive in the central role, appearing in every scene of the film, although some of the supporting performances weren’t the strongest.
One thing I did find odd about the film is that it doesn’t really feel like it’s set in the 1970s (despite the lack of mobile phones!), which doesn’t detract from the movie really but it struck me as a bit jarring. ‘Once Upon a River’ is a well made coming of age drama with a gripping lead performance from Kenadi DelaCerna, and comparisons with Debra Granik’s ‘Winter’s Bone’ are earned.
Directed By: Haroula Rose
Starring: Kenadi DelaCerna, John Ashton, Tatanka Means, Ajuawak Kapasheshit, Kenn E. Head, Lindsay Pulsipher, Dominic Bogart and Evan Linder