As the centerpiece film of the 2016 New Zealand International Film Festival, The Rehearsal has a lot to prove. Based on the first book by Eleanor Catton – albeit with many changes – the film tells the story of Stanley, a student at a fictionalized Auckland drama institute. With a large supporting cast, the film follows Stanley and his fellow students, along with their teachers, as they work towards their end of year drama performance. Running consecutively is the story of 15-year-old Isolde who forms a relationship with Stanley in the aftermath of a sex scandal involving her older sister and her tennis coach.
Penned by Emily Perkins alongside director Alison Maclean, the large cast, led by James Rolleston, Kerry Fox and Ella Edward, all get their chance to shine, as do supporting members Kieran Charnock and Miranda Harcourt. For a story with a strong central story and theme, it was disappointing that the characters never really made any impact on my viewing experience. They felt important for the storyline but did not have the emotional heft to stay with me upon leaving the theatre.
That being said, the story itself is thoroughly engaging, well acted and the haunting soundtrack and cinematography make the film a highly enjoyable watch. I found myself immersed in the story being told, and the many twists and turns throughout kept me interested. It was never entirely apparent where the story was going to end up, but loose ties were concluded satisfactorily and the story finished in the right place, without dragging on or losing my interest.
All in all, The Rehearsal is a pleasant watch with an excellent and diverse cast of adults and teenagers. While characterization is lost in favour of storytelling, the story being told is interesting, engaging and manages to be funny, poignant and optimistic at the same time.
Reviewed by Stewart Sowman-Lund.
The Rehearsal is on again in Auckland 26h July then various screenings nationwide during NZIFF.