REVIEW: “Pearl” breaks virtual reality barriers with Academy Award nomination

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Fair Use Image from Google 360 website

Pearl is the story of a father and daughter who go from homeless to famous in just 5 minutes.

Google’s Virtual Reality short film “Pearl” is a gem of an experience. It’s difficult not to love this family of two in an original coming of age tale.

Directed by Pat Osbourne, known for Academy Award winning films including the 2015 Best Animated Feature Big Hero 6 and 2013 winning short, “Paperman,” it comes as no surprise that “Pearl” is a contender for the Academy Award for short films this year.  Yet, because it is VR, something often seen as a video game pop culture device and not fine art, the film breaks new ground, taking immersive film to depths beyond 3D while making the most of what virtual reality technology can provide.

‘Pearl’ is a film to watch again and again.”

“Pearl” tells the story of Sarah and her father, who live in their car during Sarah’s early life.  The lyrics of Alexis Hart’s song “No Wrong Way Home” provide the only text, with the father singing lines like “These are fragile times” and “I hope you’ll always stand tall” showing the persistence and hope he has for his daughter.  Later, the lyrics reflect the lessons daughter Sarah has learned as she sings “It ain’t where you been, but where you’re going to/it’s not where you’re from, but where you belong/…and there’s no wrong way home.”

It can be assumed that the film title “Pearl” is the name of the car — although pearls are also referenced in the lyrics of the song, noting how we all share this planet; Sarah’s band’s name, “Pearl” seen on the marquee at the end, provides another connection to the film short’s title.  

Regardless, the hatchback takes this small but strong family through every experience, from childhood carpools to teenage rebellion to the friendship that grows between and parent and child when children become adults.  In the final minute of “Pearl” viewers may need to hold back tears as Sarah, repairs their old beater car, picks up her aging father from his trailer home, and chauffeurs him to a concert where she’ll perform the song he sung to her as a child.

“Pearl” shows viewers how conforming to the pervasive social message of middle class nuclear family isn’t what makes a good home: it’s love and connection, regardless of bank account balance or family structure.

With a running time of only 5 ½ minutes, “Pearl” is a film to watch again and again, because with every turn of the screen (or turn of the head, in a VR headset) new details emerge in the animated world.  

Only time will tell if it will win, but “Pearl” is definitely Oscar worthy.



5 out of 5 stars