NYFF Review: ‘The Rehearsal’

The Rehearsal | Alison Maclean | NYFF 2016

Based on New Zealand author Eleanor Catton’s novel of the same name, The Rehearsal is the new film from director Alison Maclean, her first in 17 years, since 1999’s Jesus’ Son.

Based on a script that Maclean adapted with Emily Perkins, The Rehearsal takes a look at one of the most prestigious dramatic acting schools in Auckland, New Zealand. Our focus is a shy aspiring actor named Stanley (James Rolleston) who seems to stand out from the rest of the more colorful and energetic students and faculty. He’s the opposite of the Hannah (Kerry Fox), the founder of the institute and Stanley’s teacher, whose tough, no-nonsense approach is a big shift from his more subdued nature.

Things get serious when Stanley and his classmates are struggling to come up with a topic to impress at their final performance project. With no other ideas in reach, Stanley uses a recent news story about a Tennis coach (Erroll Shand) sleeping with one of his students (Rachel Roberts). Things go down a slippery slope as it just so happens that Stanley is dating the victim’s sister Isolde (Ella Edwards), who is unaware about the planned performance piece. Reality and performance collide head on.

The Rehearsal knows that its bread and butter are the scenes within the drama school, all of which are a joy to witness. There’s a curiosity and life to these moments about creating a dramatic moment out of thin air and knowing when to incorporate and separate real life within a performance. One of the film’s best scenes is when Stanley comes out of his shell and does a dead-on impersonation of his father during an exercise in class, impressing not only Hannah and his classmates, but us in the audience as well.

It’s unfortunate that there aren’t quite enough of these moments in the film, which sometimes strays too far from the source of what it does well. The plot takes us to other places which may be more of a necessity in the novel, don’t seem to flow quite as well on the screen.

For its faults, we are kept engaged by the solid performance from James Rolleston who is not new to the scene but feels like he is still due for a big time breakout someday. Then there’s the powerhouse performance from Kerry Fox who gives a thunderous intensity to each and every scene and line that felt so real and raw. It all looked great thanks to the cinematography of Andrew Commis. There’s also some nice turns from young actors who make up Stanley’s classmates and group project partners, but they don’t get quite enough time to shine on their own or make an impression, save for Marlon Williams as a character named Theo.

Overall The Rehearsal is worth a watch due to it’s shining acting school moments and a wonderful standout finale scene which Maclean knocks out of the park. It gives the film a nice neat bow tie that wraps things up in a thought-provoking manner. It’s just too bad that the rest of the film wasn’t as graceful more consistently.

Rating: 7.3/10