“What’s a Maori without roots, eh?” is the ultimate question posed on Danny (Francis Kora), an adopted child turned metro Maori whose whanau and whakapapa is a mystery to him. It’s a great set-up for exploring Maori identity in a contemporary world, and following Danny’s small three-piece acoustic band (featuring some damn fine songs from Warren Maxwell of Trinity Roots) up/down the North Island makes the deal sound even sweeter. But while the tale kicks off a number of themes, messages and ideas, it’s hard to feel it nails any of them.
Cinematographer Rewa Harré peppers the film with gorgeously captured landscapes of Aotearoa that silhouette the characters in the foreground – evoking a sense of greatness in the land that overbears the people who inhabit it. This vision works in tandem with the documentary feel as the boys journey between locales, giving the film an organic feel that really complements its grassroots atmosphere and traditional Maori themes.
It’s a real shame then that the writing and the story can’t match the quality of the vision and the music. The comedic band camaraderie that worked so well in Mt. Zion doesn’t come across that finely here (“Tell him to bless your feet ‘coz they stink,”), despite Tola Newbery’s lively efforts as the drummer Cityboy. An undercooked love triangle involving Danny’s ex-wife does more to interfere with his journey of self-discovery than add to it – especially when their tamaiti is sparsely referenced in the situation. Though this leads to a superb “screw you” serenade, Danny’s changing attitudes towards his own culture are not referenced to, or reflected in, most of the other tracks, making the songs as a whole superfluous to his growth. When this is the character’s key method of expressing himself, it feels like many marks were missed.
The ultimate divider comes down to the film’s fantastical conclusion that directly opposes the aforementioned organic doco-like filmmaking. It’s a turn that might connect with the deeply spiritual, but will most likely take everyone else out of the film, making The Pa Boys difficult to recommend beyond its great music and beautiful imagery.
‘The Pa Boys’ Movie Times