It’s sometimes hard to review a directorial debut and remain completely objective in a world where numerous major and independent releases hit the cinema screen several days a week. But in the case of Penny Black, the first feature film from New Zealanders Joe Hitchcock and producer Fiona Jackson , it’s a little bit easier. Because unlike some independent first timers, Penny Black works, for the most part. Telling the story of Penny Black, a socialite supermodel in Auckland who becomes guardian over her childish and superhero-obsessed younger sister, Penny Black is quirky, eccentric and sometimes just plain weird. But it’s also quite funny, subtle and typically Kiwi, making beautiful use of New Zealand’s North Island as the lead characters road-trip their way from Auckland to Wellington.
Thematically and artistically the film generally succeeds, with some beautiful scenic shots and character depth which allow the audience to be fully immersed in the film experience. However, it is in the technical elements that Penny Black suffers somewhat. Dialogue is often lost to background noise and some of the sound editing seems like a work in progress, which while generally forgivable does somewhat hinder enjoyment of the film. *We have since been informed that the film has now received NZ Film Commission Post Production funding to improve the sound and picture quality for theatrical release.
The script itself is generally funny and clever, with subtle gags and self-referential humour including a particularly amusing shop-lifting sequence in the central North Island. That being said, the pacing seems a bit off with the film’s main climax seeming rushed and unprepared. While it doesn’t quite succeed in all areas, it will be well worth watching the careers of its cast and creative team in the future.
That being said, Penny Black is an unusual film which should be commended for being a truly original Kiwi comedy that makes the most of its setting and talented cast.
Reviewed by Stewart Sowman-Lund.