Vanessa Alexander’s first feature film is a small scale but quite delightful female buddy pic with a small town setting and deeply felt emotions. The tale of two contrasting women who want to have babies is given disarmingly sweet treatment by the 28-year-old writer-director, resulting in a colorful, lively pic that’s easy to enjoy. There could be fest slots for this, though theatrical bookings outside New Zealand may be hard to find. Still, there should be healthy ancillary for this engaging item.
The setting is the town of Hokitika on the west coast of New Zealand’s spectacular South Island. In this little community where everybody knows everybody else, Rose (Nicola Murphy), who works in the chemist’s shop, is self-conscious about her apparent inability to get pregnant by Stuart (Simon Ferry), the husband she adores.
Paradoxically, Stuart works on an artificial insemination program with cattle. He’s beginning to talk about adoption, something Rose instinctively rejects.
Enter Magik (Alison Bruce), who drives into town in her colorfully painted trailer. She’s a fortuneteller who dresses extravagantly and seems to be very much in charge of her own destiny.
She and Rose become close friends, because Magik, too, would like to get pregnant before it’s too late (she’s 35), and she’s even willing to take the scandalous step of advertising in the local paper for a man to supply the sperm she needs — an action that leads to a very funny scene in which potential candidates are auditioned.
But Magik has a secret: Like the Judy Davis character in Gillian Armstrong’s similarly located film, “High Tide,” she gave birth to a daughter years ago and abandoned her; the girl (Florence Hartigan) was adopted locally, and when she meets her birth mother for the first time, in a well-played scene, she is instantly hostile.
One of the flaws in Alexander’s generally good screenplay is that the background of this unnamed girl remains undefined; it would have been nice to know more about the mature, opinionated 16-year-old.
Simple story unfolds against the background of the town’s food and music festival, and the soundtrack is bursting with country songs, mostly performed by the Coalrangers. The beautiful setting is attractively photographed by Fred Renata, and Simonde Norden has fun with the design of Magik’s out-there costumes (there’s a nice scene in which the two women swap outfits).
Bruce is good as the world-weary Magik, while Murphy is appealing as the lively but increasingly frustrated Rose. Despite the film’s small budget, it looks and sounds fine in every department.