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‘Chasing Wonders’: A mad dad takes some of the joy out of well-acted family drama

Sometimes visually arresting, the story filmed in Australia and Spain comes to a conclusion that seems contrived and forced.

A boy (Michael Crisafulli, foreground) lives on an Australian vineyard with his father (Antonio De La Torre, left), grandmother (Carmen Maura) and grandfather (Edward James Olmos) in “Chasing Wonders.”
Gravitas Ventures

The story of the making of “Chasing Wonders” might be more intriguing than the movie itself, given filming was spaced out over a five-year period a la Richard Linklater’s “Boyhood” so the same actor could play an adolescent boy and a young man, and the director is listed as one Paul Meins, who has no previous credits of any kind and whose name was attached to the film only after the original director, Jim Loach, departed the project during the post-production period.

What the heck happened THERE?

What we have is the movie, and it’s a well-intentioned, well-acted and sometimes visually arresting picture that unfortunately features a primary character who is so foul and irredeemable it’s virtually impossible to believe certain happy-ending developments late in the film. It feels contrived and forced.

Scripted by the gifted Judy Morris (“Happy Feet,” “Babe: Pig in the City”) and filmed in Australia and Spain, “Chasing Wonders” begins with a teenager named Savino (Michael Crisafulli) visiting his father’s family home in Spain in an effort to learn more about his heritage. We flash back about a half-dozen years to the main chapter in the story, with young Savino (played by a considerably younger Crisafulli) living on an Australian vineyard with his stern taskmaster of a father (Antonio De La Torre); his quiet and loving mother (Paz Vega); his warm and wonderfully eccentric maternal grandparents (Edward James Olmos and Carmen Maura); his sweet-natured and party-inclined uncle (Quim Gutierrez) and his uncle’s free-spirited Australian girlfriend (Jessica Marais). Quite a bunch.

This should be a homestead filled with music and wine and food and love and family warmth, and just about everybody is on board with that except for Savino’s father, who was hardened by a tragedy from decades ago and has never recovered from it. As Savino’s grandfather tries to infuse the boy with a sense of adventure (Olmos also serves as the narrator for the story, sharing dollops of wisdom in his gloriously gruff voice), his father consistently steps on the boy’s dreams and tells him hard work is the only way to make it in this world, and the vineyard is his one and only future.

This man seethes with rage when his father-in-law tries to offer life lessons to Savino, when his mother-in-law speaks her mind, when young Savino gets into the kind of trouble boys his age are inclined to find — you name the situation, and he will find a reason to explode and storm off. He even kicks his in-laws out of the house when he feels they’re undermining his authority, sending them off on a bus while knowing they have no place to go. It’s that kind of consistent cruelty that undermines the later sequences involving revelations and reconciliation.

“Chasing Wonders” is less about chasing those wonders than it is about the heartbreak of growing up in a house run by a cold and broken man who doesn’t realize how lucky he is that his entire extended family didn’t leave him alone to wallow in his misery years ago.