★★★ - STUFF
- Endearing Kiwi drama celebrates cars, independence and Kāpiti -
Nineteen-year-old Poppy (Libby Hunsdale) is ready to take control of her own life.
She’s determined to gain that automotive apprenticeship her late father promised her, starting with passing her driving test.
Sure she helps out her older brother Dave (Ari Boyland) in the workshop and with charming clients, but Poppy “needs to get paid, not just pocket money”, as she tells him.
However, times are tough for the Kāpiti-based “Simpson & Son” business. There are too many “brojects” and not enough paying customers, while Dave is still struggling to come to terms with their parents’ death – and his part in it. Losing his long-term girlfriend didn’t help either and, as a result, he’s hit the bottle – hard.
That means Poppy’s bid for independence doesn’t go down well, especially when she also embarks on a relationship with Luke (Sebastian Hunter), an aspiring musician who was “nice to her at high school”, after his car becomes impaled on a road island. Dave is concerned that his First Dates NZ-loving sis might not be ready for love and worries that – like her nascent attempts behind the wheel – she could be moving too fast.
Best known as the first local film to recommence shooting after last year’s lockdown, this Kāpiti-dramedy is, at its heart, a celebration of the region and its leading lady. Hunsdale delivers a terrific performance as Poppy and the script allows her to prove that Down syndrome is no barrier to living life to the full. Poppy is a nuanced, vibrant and comedic tour-de-force and it’s easy to see why she charms most of those she comes into contact with. Her relationship with her protective brother is particularly impressive, a testament to both Hunsdale and the quite brilliant Martin Henderson-esque Boyland (Shortland St, Go Girls).
Not all of it works though, not all the acting reaches quite the same heights and writer-director Niccol’s script struggles to maintain a consistent tone (something that also blighted her 2008 screenplay for Second-Hand Wedding). You can see the story occasionally graunching through the gears, as it attempts to segue from light comedy to more dramatic themes.
Watching this, an American audience could be forgiven for being confused as to what our AA actually does and, while there are interesting discussions about Poppy being allowed to make decisions for herself, the inclusion of an intimate scene seems unnecessary and could cast a pall over the rest of the story for some.
Likewise, after a strong opening hour, the film loses its way and focus a little towards the end, as the family drama gives way to burnout action.
A lack of characters also leads to a little too much contrivance, although, in reality, it probably makes for an accurate depiction of small-town New Zealand.
Likely to be a huge-hit in its own backyard, hopefully Poppy propels its two leads onto even greater things.
Poppy is now playing at Light House Petone and Pauatahanui