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Fantail - review

Jun 3, 2014 Film & TV

That Fantail can hold an audience’s attention so readily for its 81 minutes is principally a tribute to Sophie Henderson. Not only does she take the lead role as Tania, a “white Maori” who works the graveyard shift at a petrol station and is on screen in nearly every scene, she also wrote the script, developing it from her one-woman stage show.

It’s a tough tale of lives lived at the bottom of the heap in south Auckland, but leavened with very funny moments — mainly thanks to Dean (Jarod Rawiri), the new regional manager who pops up repeatedly during Tania’s all-night shifts. He’s a try-hard parcours (freerunning) devotee who can’t resist a dare, even when it means drinking six cans of an energy drink on the trot.

Unfortunately, the faults that prevent Fantail from being an excellent film are equally Henderson’s responsibility, as writer and star. For some unfathomable reason, she speaks in a heavily accented Maori accent that creates a jarring note throughout and which adds nothing to the film’s plot or development. In fact, the whole strand emphasising her cultural identity feels like an unnecessary embellishment to a strongly character-driven story.

The ending involving her younger brother Piwakawaka (played by newcomer Jahalis Ngamotu) – the fantail of the title — is also highly implausible. Which is a pity, because in several significant turning points, the writing shows a subtle command of characterisation, presenting the audience with real surprises but ones that ring true.

Fantail was made via the Film Commission’s low budget Escalator programme and it’s a pity no one at the commission realised the film’s potential and provided extra money to have the ending rewritten and re-shot instead of allowing it to fall at the last hurdle.

Even with these flaws, however, it’s an effective and engaging film.

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