In similar fashion to 2013’s Oscar Wilde-inspired The Selfish Giant, Fantail brings a Maori fable to a local lower-class setting. Mostly set at a South Auckland petrol station, first-time feature director Curtis Vowell achieves the sombre look and visual grit such a lonesome location requires, allowing actress/writer/wife Sophie Henderson to soak it all up with her vibrant, absorbing performance.
Equipped with a well-realised vernacular (her F-bombs amaze), Henderson delivers an endearingly brave portrayal of a fair-skinned, blue-eyed, blonde-haired, bro-speaking Maori woman Tania – an act that could have easily collapsed into ridiculousness, or even offended, in less capable hands.
Jared Rawiri shows a great array of comedic talents as ‘pakeha’ed Maori’ Dean, whose anal-retentive confusion towards Tania’s ‘Maori’ed pakeha’ leads to some great displays of ignorance (“Stop talking like a gangsta; it’s not attractive”). It’s a constant joy seeing Tania not give a single shit about his comments, cheekily criticising Dean’s Oreo complex every moment she gets.
Some of Rawiri’s goofier moments, however, feel distractingly misplaced – one scene has Dean trying to impress Tania by sculling energy drinks wrapped around another scene of young teens smoking meth.
The film’s highlighting of contemporary cultural confusion can also sometimes feel too on-the-nose (the pair literally compares skin colour at one point) and the ending writes Dean out rather abruptly, not doing anything with his established insecurities about (not) being Maori. As a result, Tania’s romantic investment in him seem both unfulfilling and inconsequential to the film’s eventual conclusion. It’s frustrating, because when Fantail aims for arrow-to-the-heart drama, it pierces.
‘Fantail’ Movie Times