Film Review: No. 2
No. 2 (Opens on screens in NZ today)
Director/Writer: Toa Fraser
Cast: Ruby Dee, Mia Blake, Taungaroa Emile, Tuva Novotny, Xavier Horan, Nathaniel Lees, Miriama McDowell, Rene Naufahu, Anthony Starr, Pio Terei.
To Mt. Roskill what this year's other Auckland suburban homage to Pacific Island communities (Sione's Wedding) is to Grey Lynn: part nostalgic vibe, part comedy-drama; but No. 2 seems to fall short of it's potential with an otherwise pleasing theme hobbled by an awkward mix of actors, storylines, pace and ultimately, plausability. Even on account of dramatic ballast Sione's Wedding would trump No. 2. There is a critical lack of the necessary elements of comedy and drama - the effective evocation of tension and feeling is left stranded somewhere between Dee's irksome ventalin excursions and Novotny's irratably smug presence.
Plot goes: Fijian matriarch summons grandchildren suddenly one day for a feast where she will name successor, but the whole extended family end up there with all the family disputes and antics that ensue.
Problems go: She's unlikable. Not feisty and staunch, just senile and insufferable. And she doesn't look remotely Fijian - at least the other actors in the family are various degrees of Polynesian. Novotny's cutesy, bjork, impish thing becomes grating once she has all her clothes on properly. The whole "successor" thing is confused and like all of the film the cultural practices are barely recognisable as Fijian and are left annoyingly unexplained. (The reviewer in Metro thought the confused ownership status of the house was what was centrally nagging - but I took that as a method of sorting out who of the matriarch's progeny were in it for the money.) To the general overseas audience these details may be invisible and irrelevant - to an Aucklander they might think many scenes odd: a female singing a solo performance unaccompanied while the entire male chorus and guitars are silent? Kava made for only two women? There are many such incidents.
Naufahu was last seen on Shortland Street. What a waste, he was excellent. Emile, going from the evidence of his part in TV2's critically accliamed but Chartercided late night drama The Market still thinks a permanent scowl is real acting still makes a mark, as does the ever reliable Lees (who also cameos on Sione's Wedding). The remainder of the cast do a reasonable job with what we ought to remember was entirely Madeleine Sami (who appears on Sione's Wedding) and her multiple personalities in Fraser's original solo play. It is very far removed from a solo show and much may have been lost in the journey. So much so we must even dare ask whether it should have been made at all.
This film does have touching moments, I just can't recall any. There are funny moments too, I just can't remember what they were. The music's supposed to be good, but I nothing stands out. I'm left with the impression of a feel-good family flick but robbed. Deprived even of a really meaningful ending, let alone sustaining it through, because the whole concept of the "succession," the entire cultural import, was never, ever made clear to us. Under the circumstances it is difficult to care. There wasn't enough emotion, no murder, no death, no devestating familial revelations to sustain a drama. There wasn't enough genuine hilarity or comedic characters to sustain a comedy either. It's as if we are left leafing through just another family photo album with a haphazard, incomplete and rambling commentary from someone we don't really like.
If you have to see one comedy-drama this summer about Pacific Island families in an Auckland suburb then (and let's just plug it one more time) Sione's Wedding would squeak in first. No. 2, I'm afraid, is just that.
It's like the Fijian family I lived next to for 6 years: they provided the best singing to get to sleep to on Wednesday nights; but brazenly harboured the recidivist burglars who terrorised the neighbourhood and stole my top shelf Euro-porn and drugs. I'm ambivalent. I'll give it a 3 out of 5 stars max. because I'm being uncharacteristically generous.