Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Alison Maclean is back -- with her oddball, enticing, problematic movie, THE REHEARSAL

It seems to TrustMovies rather shocking that Canadian filmmaker Alison Maclean has made no full-length motion picture since her little 1999 amazement Jesus' Son, which was based on the Denis Johnson novel, helped put Billy Crudup on the movie map, and added some oomph to the then-current indie scene. Ms Maclean, shown in the photo below, has since done some work in TV and cable, and yet the 2016 film THE REHEARSAL, just now getting a very limited theatrical release in the USA, would appear to be her return to narrative storytelling. (She also made the well-regarded hour-long documentary Persons of Interest in 2004.)

The Rehearsal, a New Zealand film, tracks the life of a young Maori student named Stanley (played by the quietly hunky actor, James Rolleston, shown on poster above and in the penultimate photo below), who auditions for and gets a place on the roster of new students at a prestigious drama school run by one of those scary-but-caring martinet teachers (that always interesting actress Kerry Fox, shown two photos below).

We follow Stanley during his drama studies and his interaction with his classmates (below), see the oddly distant-but-friendly relationship with his father, and watch as a budding romance begins with a younger girl (played by Ella Edward, shown three photos below).

There's wonderfully improvisational feel to the much of the dialog and the performances here, which carries the movie along quite well for some time. The classroom scenes offer a nice whiff of both menace and release, as our hero learns how to please his master/mentor and then, to an extent, himself. (The surprising and amusing scene in which Stanley portrays his own father in front of the class proves a kind of break-through for the lad.)

Yet the story -- written by Maclean and Emily Perkins -- seems anything but organic. Instead, it rather bumpily and lumpily coalesces Stanley's drama-student tale with that of his romance with the younger sister of an still under-age girl who is all over the current news, due to her affair with her older (and married) tennis coach. Soon we're being served up very large doses of betrayal and even death, as the drama group of which Stanley is a part decides to use that sister's story as fodder for its end-of-year drama presentation.

For some reason the movie is divided into ongoing months, but so what? Even without these monthly "signposts," we'd very well know where we are. As art begins to imitate life (and makes a botch of both), arbitrariness and coincidence abound and character pretty much goes missing. We don't see nearly enough of the students' presentation to know if it's any good, but we get plenty of back-and-forth wavering from Stanley regarding his ongoing betrayal of his girl and her family.

Maclean and Perkins open up a lot of topics here -- from inspiration and the art of acting to the responsibility of teachers to their students -- yet little that's incisive or original emerges from all this. And the sudden death of one of the students seems so haphazard and out-of-the-blue that it can't begin to carry the weight that it should. The movie's finale, however? Ah, now that is quite something: metaphorical, metaphysical, surprising and lots of fun. More like what you'd expect from the woman who directed the excellent Jesus' Son.

Distributed by Mongrel International and running 98 minutes, The Rehearsal (what this title actually means or refers to is interesting all on its own) opens this Friday, July 7, in New York City at the new Metrograph theater. Elsewhere? No idea. But the movie's web site would seem to indicate that it is available via Google Play and iTunes.

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