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Interpersonal drama is a staple of New Zealand filmmaking. It's a process of telling human stories the vast majority of people can identify with. This makes plenty of sense in a small filmgoing market & also helps universalise local films for an international audience. Debut feature director Brendan Donovan cleverly exploits this angle with his film about a grown man who needs to grow up. A veteran of several short films (including one starring Lee Majors) and several Kiwi TV dramas (he fulfilled many dreams by destroying the nation's capital in an earthquake telemovie), Donovan is a talented storyteller. Not averse to the occasional foray into mystical surrealism, he isn't so much an auteur as a very capable filmmaker who knows how to engage an audience. For this reason, Gazza Snell is an easily accessible movie that doesn't rewrite the parameters of filmmaking. Instead it tells a heartfelt tale of a father of 2 boys obsessed with go-kart racing. When one of the sons winds up in a coma after a nasty yet exhilarating crash, Gazza begins the long-overdue process of reconstituting his priorities, both to his sons & long-suffering wife. Along the way, the eldest son enters into a relationship with an Asian girl, allowing Donovan to explore certain comical elements of racial tension in one of Auckland's largest Asian suburbs. Especially funny is a scene in which Gazza inadvertently makes a racial slur while driving, much to the girl's amusement and the son's embarrassment. Aussie actor William McInnes plays Gazza as a likable buffoon, with more than a hint of Homer. TV's Outrageous Fortune star Robyn Malcolm excels as hard done by mum. And the kids are charismatic newcomers. Standout performance is comedian Brendan Lovegrove as, well, Brendan Lovegrove. And the scene of mum cavorting with Gazza's best friend in an empty Para Pool is pure kiwiana. Although it's a relatively straightforward family drama, the action sequences of go-kart races are powerful on the big screen, especially with the sound effects and music cranked up really high. The scene in which the boys jump into a hilltop water tank is also stunning, with Donovan using it poetically late in the film to illustrate a poignant moment in the script. With NZ feature Boy breaking local box office records at the moment, it's a good time for Kiwi films, especially at home. But it's also time for new talent to emerge to add diversity to the country's modest filmmaking industry. Donovan has proved himself capable and ready to be counted. Now he's underway, it's going to be interesting to see how he expands his storytelling skills to carve a progressively more unique path as a filmmaker. He's certainly got the looks to help him on his way.
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