Thursday, 16 October 2008

No.87 : Whale Rider

Whale Rider at the IMDb

Contrary to popular belief ‘Whale Rider’ is not a documentary concerned with Glasgow’s famous Cleopatra’s night club. It is in fact a touching coming of age drama about a young New Zealander’s quest for acceptance in a male dominated community.

The film opens with our heroine’s (Paikea’s) difficult birth. She is born healthy but her twin brother is still born and her mother dies in labour. Her father’s father is most upset at the loss of the boy and initially refuses to have anything to do with the girl. He is the patriarch of the community and the first born son of his son was due to continue the line that stretched way back to the original Whale Rider. The girl is no substitute due to her female status. Her Dad finds it hard to accept the situation and leaves to pursue an artist career in Europe, leaving the girl in the care of her loving grand mother and slowly learning to like her grand father.

Things quickly move to the present day with Paikea now 12 years old. Grandfather has decided to broaden his search for an heir into the community at large and sets up a class, to school the local boys in the arts of the ‘ancient ones’. Paikea isn’t allowed to participate but learns secretly by eaves dropping on the lessons and by enlisting the help of her uncle, who was deemed inappropriate for the job long ago. Paikea has natural aptitude for the tasks at hand and quickly shows herself to be better at diving and stick fighting than the boys. Stubborn old Grandfather won’t be shifted however, and her now returned father decides to take her away. On leaving she feels a connection with a passing whale and decides to return and fight for what is rightfully hers.

After singing out to the sea and headlining a school talent contest Paikea awakes to find that a pod of whales has beached itself outside their community, and the efforts of the locals to refloat them have failed. Can our girl harness the ancient ways to save the whales and convince her grandfather of her worthiness to be clan chief at the same time?

Although the messages of equality, redemption and acceptance are all ladled on somewhat heavily this is still a hard film to dislike. The poster kinda spoils any surprise that the ending may offer, but it’s a fun journey getting there. The Grandfather character is a right grumpy old git but he doesn't quite convince that he’s that against the girl even when he is a no show at the talent contest.

Keisha Castle-Hughes in the lead is excellent and got a deserved ‘Best actress’ nomination for her role (Lost to Charlize Theron). I'm not really sure why she wanted to be chief apart from getting on the old man’s nerves, but destiny and the script have to be served. The climatic scene with the beached whales was well done although I'm sure the Health and safety would have something to say about the methods employed.

For a film with a predictable plotline and thinly drawn characters it does well to succeed on a recipe of the triumph of the human spirit and cracking photography. If you are the last in line of an ancient tribe it may well speak volumes to you but for the rest of us it’s a cracking, life affirming family drama that’ll touch the darkest heart. Even mine!

Best Bit : Can you point me in the direction of the sea, please?

‘W’ Score : 18/23

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