May 29, 2013 Film & TV
Directed by Mark Albiston and Louis Sutherland
Opens May 30, 2013
It’s hard to imagine newspaper columnist Michael Laws enjoying this coming-of-age film set on the Kapiti Coast in 1981. It depicts “ferals”, who booze, fight and physically abuse their families and for whom lying, stealing and casual violence are a way of life.
The film centres on Willie (Kevin Paulo), a half-Samoan teenager caught between family demands (especially his domineering, hard-drinking Pakeha dad) and the irresistible lure of the outside world, notably a gang of thieves led by a volatile immigrant Polish criminal (Jacek Koman) at the wheel of a muscle car.
Shopping was written and directed by Mark Albiston and Louis Sutherland, who made the excellent short film The Six Dollar Fifty Man in 2009, which garnered praise and awards around the world. Their considerable talents are everywhere on show in their first feature, from the pared-back dialogue to the memorable imagery that rarely seems contrived. But although the film is absorbing enough, it’s also oppressive and grim.
Caught between a rock and a hard place, Willie makes a likeable enough hero as he struggles to make his way in life, but he’s also so taciturn it’s hard to thoroughly engage with him. The cute scenes of him playing with his nine-year-old brother Solomon (Julian Dennison) add pathos but they are not enough to push the film into being more than a largely unpleasant slice of life.
The trick with stories about the underbelly of society is to find some hope, humour or redemption — or at least insight — to leaven the bleakness and make them worth while watching.
Shopping tries to be optimistic about its young protagonists’ futures but, unfortunately, the writers have done it in a way that’s far too understated to offset the grimness of the world they inhabit — or to make the film a commercial success.