Director: Alison Maclean
Written by: Alison Maclean, Emily Perkins based on Eleanor Catton’s novel “The Rehearsal”
Cast: James Rolleston, Kerry Fox, Ella Edward, Rachel Roberts, Marlon Williams, Alice Englert, Kieran Charnock, Erroll Shand
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 6/24/17
Opens: July 7, 2017
As Michael Cart, a critic from Booklist notes in reviewing Eleanor Catton’s novel “The Rehearsal,” “Adolescence is a rehearsal for adulthood, various characters trying on personae and emerging sexual identities as they might with costumes for a performance.” Canadian-born New Zealander Alison Maclean, whose 1999 film “Jesus’ Son” hones in on a man whose drug addiction and petty crime are redeemed when he learns compassion, had taken on a film thematically not so different from the concerns Maclean and her co-writer Emily Perkins lay out in “The Rehearsal.” While Catton’s book deals with a girls’ school in which a saxophone teacher is caught in a sexually compromising position with a minor, this film uses the statutory rape as a peripheral subject. Instead Maclean involves us in the audience with the growing skills of eighteen-year-old Stanley (James Rolleston), a naïve country boy accepted by a prestigious drama school located in Auckland, New Zealand.
We’ve all had quite a collection of teachers in our lives, our opinions of them ranging all over the map. For example, what did you think of J.K. Simmons’ Fletcher, a tough-as-nails music teacher in Damien Chazelle’s 2014 movie “Whiplash?” So domineering, so demanding, and so obviously needing to justify his classroom fascism with his “tough love” ideal, he may not elicit that much affection from those lucky or unlucky students under his thumb. Remember when he commanded Miles Teller’s character Andrew to report to him one day at 6 a.m., then not showing up until hours later. Try that in a New York public high school today! This brings us to “The Rehearsal.”
The action of “The Rehearsal” takes place in and around a fortress of a school called The Institute where Hannah (Kerry Fox), the head teacher, whips a band of first-year college students into shape. She believes that the secret of good acting is to reveal yourself, a Kiwi version of Stella Adler’s Method acting; that the audience will go with performers who dig deeply into their own emotions whatever their roles. In private conferences, young Stanley, who appears almost ready to drop out under the teacher’s intense guidance, changes dramatically from a shy, virginal lad into a candidate who can plumb the depths of his emotions. This is a fellow who, in an acting exercise facing a female student must convince her with the words “I want you.” His delivery is so limp that one could imagine hookers’ turning down a $100 bill he would offer for their services.
Just off the set, he develops a friendship with 15-year-old Isolde (Ella Edwards) whom he meets on a bus and through talks with her discovers inside information about her underage sister’s rape by her tennis coach George Saladin (Erroll Shand), a married man in his forties. Students at the school show their disgust but secretly they want to know everything to such an extent that they agree to write and perform a drama for the school’s annual production. A stellar performance could mean a lot for Hannah and the Institute; prestige, funding, even celebrity status for her.
For a good deal of its one hour forty-two minutes, “The Rehearsal” ambles about without concern for plot points, those scenes that often show up at the conclusion of each third of a typical film or novel. Many scenes are situated within the classroom, a most interesting one underscoring Hannah’s dismay when William (Kieran Chrnock), a laid-back student’s delivering a monologue on what is supposed to be the most intimate thing that ever happened to him, instead passes off a comical encounter involving his dog. When Stanley delivers a commentary on his loser father, he is on the road to becoming an actor. Stanley has learned more about himself through drama school, given supportive students and a tough teacher than he could have picked up from a couple of years of psychotherapy.
The concluding scene is bizarre, one that will stimulate discussion, a summing up that pits the ethical standards of the students against the teacher’s need to win personal acclaim through the staged unfolding of the juicy scandal. The two lead performers are stunning: James Rolleston is known to film buffs through his role in Taika Waititi’s “Boy,” a lad who is obsessed with Michael Jackson, while Kerry Fox would probably like to forget about her performance in “Rag Tale” while publicizing her achievement in “Mayhem.”
“The Rehearsal” is a more complex movie than “Fame,” an adaption of a musical about students at the New York Academy of Performing Arts, but not necessarily a more joyful one. Its very complexity and non-Hollywood structure militate against that, gaining “The Rehearsal” an entry in last year’s New York Film Festival.
Unrated. 102 minutes. © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Comments, readers? Agree? Disagree? Why?
Story – B-
Acting – B
Technical – B
Overall – B