2017 Milwaukee Film Festival – Review – THE REHEARSAL
In 1999, Alison Maclean directed the critically acclaimed JESUS’ SON. In the ensuing 18 years, Maclean has worked in television, but there’s been no follow up feature film. Until now with THE REHEARSAL.
THE REHEARSAL, based on a novel by Eleanor Catton, comes with a lot of expectations. The story, set in New Zealand at a prestigious acting schools, follows the freshman year of Stanley (James Rolleson). It’s an eventful first year focusing on first love, the challenges of acting when you have little experience in the world, the politics of the school as it angles for a big endowment, new friendships, academic struggles, death, and putting together a big student acting production that can make a career. To just the mix of a school year, it turns out that Stanley’s girlfriend is the sister of a teenage girl caught up in a sex scandal involving her middle aged tennis coach. And Stanley uses that access as the basis of the play he’s putting on.
All of that is a lot to work through. Frankly, too much to satisfactorily explore and resolve, even if it leads to many good individual moments and interesting ideas to ponder. In particular, Kerry Fox as the ambitious school leader gives a pop of energy to every scene she’s in.
In the end, you wish Kerry Fox was in even more of the film. Particularly as James Rolleson, who made an impressive debut in BOY, is inconsistent. In general he’s likeable, but he sometimes lacks presence. His relationship with his girlfriend is never all that convincing. At times it seems like the only reason that they’re together is to gain information on the scandal. There’s the fact that she’s underage as well that draws parallels between the two scandals which is never adequately resolved as much as ignored. And his being perceived as a potential star never really jibes with the performance that he’s giving.
The film attempts to tie everything together in a grand theatrical gesture, but it doesn’t really land. It leaves it as a film where the whole is less than the sum of its parts and where no great stakes are ultimately risked. There are a lot of impressive moments, enough to make it worth seeing, but it probably shouldn’t be too high a priority at this year’s film festival.
THE REHEARSAL is part of the ART & ARTISTS program at the 2017 Milwaukee Film Festival and will be playing once more. The next screening is Wednesday, October 11, 2017 at 6 pm at the Oriental Theatre. Tickets can be purchased online at the Milwaukee Film Festival website or at box office locations at various venues. The 2017 Milwaukee Film Festival runs from September 28 to October 12, 2017.