★★★★½ - STUFF
- Thoroughly entertaining '80s-set dramedy deserves to be seen by Kiwis of all ages -
I was reminded of my own somewhat conflicted and complicated youthful relationship with “New Zealand’s national obsession” while watching Hamish Bennett (Bellbird) and Paul Middleditch’s (Separation City) evocative, early ‘80s Edinburgh-of-the-south-set coming-of-age tale.
It’s hard not to when confronted with so many familiar places from the city I grew up in, backed by a magnificently curated collection of tunes – less predictably Flying Nun and more Top 40 from the era, which means everyone from The Dudes to Leo Sayer, Split Enz, The Pretenders and Supertramp – that were pretty much the soundtrack to my life at that time.
Uproar, though, is focused on the cultural awakening of the fictional (although every Kiwi of a certain age will have a school it’s a cypher for) St. Gilberts School for Men’s student Josh Waaka (Julian Dennison).
A somewhat reluctant member of the struggling 2nd XV, the 17-year-old is living in the shadow of his former Junior All Black older brother Jamie (James Rolleston) and spending his lunchtimes in the library to avoid the bullies out to make his life a constant misery.
With his dad gone now some seven years, money is tight in the Waaka household, especially as Jamie has barely left his room since his footy career-ending injury.
While Josh helps out with distributing circulars, mum Shirley (Minnie Driver) tries to make ends meet by dividing her time between three cleaning jobs, one of which is at the school itself.
Sensing that Josh is somewhat directionless, she seizes upon an opportunity when St Gilbert’s principal Derek Slane (Mark Mitchinson) attempts to recruit Jamie to help coach the 1stXV for their final push towards Harding Cup glory. They’ll only agree if Josh becomes part of the squad. “Make a good fist of it and the old boys’ network will be looking after you for life,” Shirley advises her youngest son.
However, he now has another potential career path in mind. Encouraged by English and drama teacher Brother Madigan (Rhys Darby), he’s been working towards an audition which could ultimately earn him a spot at an Australian drama school.
While reluctant to share such ambitions with his mum, there’s another complicating factor. The Springbok Tour, with all the divisiveness that surrounds it, is coming to Carisbrook. Although students have been specifically warned against being seen at any protests, having been introduced to the charismatic Samantha (Erana James) by his best friend Grace (Jada Fa’atui), Josh is becoming increasingly intrigued – and emboldened – by what she and others have to say.
While sometimes breathless with incident and “big moments”, this is a compelling, crowd-pleasing combination of Billy Elliot, Whale Rider, The Power of One and Foreskin’s Lament (Kiwi playwright Greg McGee’s landmark 1981 play about rugby that Brother Madigan has smuggled into the school) that makes great use of its terrific ensemble.
Darby is a revelation in a more nuanced part than usual, Driver (Starstruck, Good Will Hunting) is as dependable as ever and Rolleston and Dennison demonstrate just how far they’ve matured as actors from their respective, more youthful, roles in Boy and Hunt for the Wilderpeople.
Funny, poignant and emotional, this thoroughly entertaining '80s-set dramedy deserves to be seen by Kiwis of all ages.
- James Croot, STUFF
Uproar is now playing at Light House Cinema!