With a boat, gun, and a lifetime of outdoor survival skills in hand, Margo begins an Odyssey down the waterway to find her mother. Her first stop is a friend’s home who agrees to help, but the arrival of the sheriff (possibly investigating the shooting) sends Margo on the run. As she heads down the river, she runs into fellow Native American Will (Ajuawak Kapashesit), who offers support and companionship. Then an older gentleman Smoke (John Ashton), who lets her stay with him if she promises to fulfill an unusual request. She even runs into Billy to confront her about his father.
There’s a lot to love about Once Upon a River. Let’s start with Charlotte Hornsby’s beautiful cinematography. Sure, shooting outdoors and along a river is an affordable way to make a movie without building sets, but then again filming in a forest and on a river is no easy feat either. The most pivotal moments of the film are in or on the river, and Hornsby visually tells this story without being bogged down by dialogue.
“…DelaCerna absolutely shines in not only her first feature film but her first leading role…”
As Margo, Kenadi DelaCerna absolutely shines in not only her first feature film but her first leading role as well. She more than carries the entire film, considering she’s in every scene of the film. Sure, there’s a little bit of the rookie nerves, but her performance keeps you engaged with her story and character.
But DelaCerna’s performance means nothing without Rose’s direction and screenplay. I love two aspects of Once Upon a River. First, the story feels like the odysseys of old as Margo’s travels down the river and meets characters along the way, which shapes the woman Margo becomes at the end. Each encounter (particularly with Will) becomes a chapter in her life that affects both her narrative and character development.
The second is Margo’s character arc. The film starts with her losing everything, and in her case, “everything” was her father. It would be easy for Margo to become a victim of her misfortune, drifting down the river of life allowing her circumstances to dictate her path. By the end, Margo must grab the reins of her life and become the master of her destiny.
A far as coming-of-age stories go, Once Upon a River is a very sweet story. There’s not a lot of fluff, but there is a lot of heart in a story based on a novel and feels in a way like a novel.
"…it would be easy for Margo to become a victim of her misfortune..."