Starlight Hotel is a road movie [from Grant Hinden Miller’s 1986 novel The Dream Monger] centering on the friendship between a man on the run from the law and a 13-year-old girl looking for her father. Setting is the central South Island in 1930, with farmers forced to leave their land as the Depression bites. Kate (Greer Robson) runs away to try to find her father, who’s looking for work in Wellington on the North Island.
She soon encounters Patrick (Peter Phelps), a man whose life was shattered by his experiences in the world war and later when his wife left him. He’s wanted by the police for beating a repo man who was taking advantage during the Depression, and is trying to get to a port and then passage to Australia.
All the classic elements of this kind of film are here: jumping on trains, hiding out in barns, making friends and enemies along the way. The film benefits enormously from the charismatic performances in the leads. Phelps, an Aussie actor, gives a rugged, charming performance. Robson, the little girl in Smash Palace, has the required toughness and sensitivity for this role.
Title refers to the ‘hotel’ where the runaways sleep: under the stars.