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As an elevator pitch, a script draft and even on the screen, this film by first time feature director David White shouldn't work.

It channels – sometimes without much repurposing – just about every trope in recent New Zealand comedy.

You can tick them off if you care to: the small town populated by sometimes slightly eccentric or stereotypical characters where it seems to be permanently 1962 (Topp Twins' Camp Leader/Camp Mother, Ken and Ken etc); an awkward and slightly gauche but sweet romance (Eagle Vs Shark); Kiwi male dickheads (just about every TV ad you see these days with boofhead guys); none-too-bright cops and officials (we tick that box a lot), there's a stockcar race (think) . . .

And then seemingly beamed in for no reason other than they could, a brief scene with a lawyer wrestling with his photocopier. (Yep, that would be Dennis Denuto from the Australian classic The Castle).

And The Detectorists gets a slight look-in also.

All of these characters are woven around the story of a family murdered many years previous in which an awkward young man (Sean, played by writer/director White) is the sole survivor and therefore suspected. But the case against him isn't proven and so while he continues to live in the same town he (and his late family) is considered a bit weird and strange.

People cross the road to avoid him, or maybe it's because of his strange choice of t-shirts?

Presumably David Bain wasn't consulted.

Oh, and the music is by Sam Scott, Lukasz Buda and Conrad Wedde.

This is a film chock full of recognition factors from the key cast members Robyn Malcolm and Rima Te Wiata (the latter reprising at one point a bit from Wilderpeople) and so the humour comes from the familiar not any particular character or plot surprises.

In the elevator, on a sighting of the script and eventually those first rushes, some might have simply said, “Yeah, but nah.”

However . . .

Against these odds – and yes, in part because of them -- This Town does work on a number of levels.

Whoever dressed the sets has a keen eye for small detail – often at the margins of the action – where we see a real rural New Zealand on the screen: it is paradise with power poles, bucolic landscapes with barbed wire.

White as the central character maintains a somewhat left-of-centre quietness which is just a little chilly.

(Interestingly White also wrote, directed and starred in the acclaimed short Killer? in which he is a man accused of murdering his family).

Malcolm as the retired cop – who now runs a hilariously cheap petting zoo and handmade adventure park, which makes for some belly-laughs, literally -- is excellent in her obsessive pursuit of the missing piece to nail Sean for the murders. She is not quite over the top, but close enough.

Curiously Malcolm and Te Wiata are given high billing here but the star is the extraordinary Alice May Connolly as the guile-free and quite luminous love interest Casey who owns every scene she is in.

In a comedy of archetypes she's the one you actually believe in.

Even if her circle of friends owes a little to Muriel's Wedding.

There is also a withering portrayal of the editor of a woman's magazine who will be familiar enough to media watchers.

This Town is a pastiche of previously worked characters and locations so accusations of originality will not be thrown. But despite that it has some considerable charm in its accumulation of detail . . . and whenever Connolly is on the screen.

After it however you may feel you never need to see another Kiwi murder/comedy set in a small and quirky rural town ever again.

It's all been done.


This Town in screening in selected cinemas nationwide.

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Graham - Aug 30, 2020

It plays better on the big screen than the small one. If you want a really entertaining local film, go see Dead (Hayden Weal and Tom Sainsbury) blows the socks of this one. I think it's out mid September.

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