But the true shining star here, the gem to watch for in the future, is the film’s lead, Jessica Brown Findlay (the British TV series “Downton Abbey”). Unfortunately, that’s about all the movie has to offer that feels fresh, inspired and genuine. MacCormick may have directed stars like Alan Rickman, Emma Thompson, Andrea Riseborough and more in the past, but the cloying, unfortunately sentimental tone and predictable story beats in "Albatross" don’t do this familiar coming-of-age tale any favors.
While conventional in the sense that Emilia is obviously the rebellious teenager that will eventually corrupt Beth’s sheltered, bookish tendencies, the picture does start auspiciously enough. But after a promising, even endearing set-up, “Albatross” quickly takes a turn for the worse after the first act.
As Beth’s dad, Koch plays a once-famous author coasting on the fumes of his debut success, but he’s written nothing of note since. When he takes a shine to Emilia’s interest in writing, we’re hoping the film doesn’t veer off into the telegraphed direction it appears to be going, but with Ormond playing a shrill, controlling harpy of a mother...sigh, there’s really only one way the picture can go, isn't there.
Throughout it all, however, there’s the guiding force of Findlay as Emilia, who strikes a chord as a genuinely precocious, insouciant yet naive teenager with an unruly and mischievous streak. As a flirty little tart, she’s authentically seductive, and when she’s in over her head and the contrite tears begin to inevitably flow, the audience generally feels empathy for the teenager, who is simply looking for something or someone solid to pin her hopes on. It should be said that Felicity Jones does an admirable job as the understated and introverted Beth, but with an outsized part to play, this is truly Findlay’s vehicle and every scene is hers.
As fucked as everyone is at the end of the picture -- there’s a divorce, a broken friendship and more -- “Albatross” still has the guile to give off little Hallmark moments backed by twinkling score notes and hopeful smiles from each every character to suggest, “Hey, we shit the bed here, but everything’s going to be ok.” And nauseating notes like that just can’t be excused. Findlay may have charms to spare, even burn, but “Albatross” never truly catches fire the way you might hope. [C-]