Film & TV

Film Review: Uproar

The only Māori student at a posh school gets caught up in the anti-Springbok protests in New Zealand in 1981.

Do yourself a favour and see what all the uproar is about!

I thought I knew what I was in for with Uproar – an underdog film where a schoolboy finds his place in the world.  I could not have been more wrong.  Sure, Josh is a schoolboy, and he is the underdog to an extent, but there is so much more to this film.  I have not seen a film that made me giggle, cry, get angry and leave feeling uplifted and enlightened since….  I don’t even know when!

Set in 1981 in New Zealand, the story follows Josh (Julian Dennison) as the only Māori in a private school, St Gilbert’s School for Men.  Josh’s presence is tolerated, and his mother Shirley (Minnie Driver looking very different with blonde hair) has the cleaning job, thanks to the stunning on-field rugby exploits of his brother (James Rolleston) and late father.  Shirley works three jobs to keep the three of them afloat, as ever since Josh’s brother had an accident and is now on crutches, he has been out of work.  He has been struggling with rehab exercises and struggling with is own identity now that he is unable to play rugby.

In the middle of everyday life, Josh is just trying to keep his head down, not make waves, help his mum and hang out with his best mate.  Then, the Springboks tour, and protests abound as South Africa still has an apartheid system.  As some of his Māori and Samoan friends are drawn into the movement, Josh is asked to join, and literally, while sitting on someone’s front fence on the side of the road, Josh says, “I’m not really a marcher, I’m more of a sitter.”

Slowly, Josh is made to consider what it is he is, what kind of person he wants to be.  One of his teachers, Brother Madigan (Rhys Darby with a brilliant role) notices how Josh lights up the room when he speaks, and how, when given something to read, he remembers it quickly and can act.  He says to Josh that he should try out for NIDA, as, “I’ve seen a lot of crap actors in my job, and you are not crap, Josh.”

But how can Josh consider acting, when his mother is struggling to put food on the table, and has worked so hard for him to be at a prestigious school?

And while struggling with this, Josh is drawn into the protests, as he’s asked to film it, and then he accidentally ends up on the front page of the newspaper.

There are so many subtle storylines twisting their way around each other, creating a beautiful patchwork that resonates on so many levels.  Paul Middleditch, who co-directed, talked about writing this film and that the inspiration came from him being an arts-loving nerd in a sports-crazy school, feeling like an outsider – which, coincidentally, is how everyone feels in some way.  One of my favourite moments in the film is when Josh is talking to Tui (Mabelle Dennison), and says, “I don’t really know much about your people.”  Tui replies, “Darling, they’re your people, too.”  Contrasting this is the white principal of the school who is disgusted with the protests, and often with Josh and other Māori, yet likes to quote, “”He iwi tahi tatou – we are one people”.

To subtly remind us that it is 1981, there are a few 80s songs played at transition points, culminating in a beautiful rendition of Crowded House’s Don’t Dream It’s Over in the Māori language.

Honestly, I could write paragraphs about this film, but I really do not want to give any spoilers, and it is an absolute must-see for anyone and everyone.  A great film to go to with your mates, on your own, with the family – it’ll give you all something to talk about for a long while after.

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