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Storyline (warning: spoilers)
Set during a turbulent time in New Zealand’s history when the Apartheid-era South African Rugby team’s 1981 nationwide tour sparked protests, the film brings a decidedly political twist to the coming-of-age genre. The film premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival and while aspects of the script use a rote formula, the film has such a big heart it's hard to resist its crowd-pleasing charms.
Dennison plays Josh, a jovial 17-year-old who lives with his English mum (Minnie Driver) and his brother Jamie (James Rolleston). His only goal is to get through school in one piece. Josh is the type of boy who’s fine with flying under the radar. He refuses to speak up in class and spends his lunch hours alone in the library, wolfing down food whenever the librarian turns her back.
When one of his teachers (Rhys Darby) suggests Josh join the drama club, Josh finds himself with a new calling and a deeper connection to his culture. With his signature charm and wit, Josh's journey allows Dennison to tap into a deeper well of complex dramatic emotions, often conveyed with a look or a shared glance of mutual understanding.
Uproar examines the toll of assimilation in a way that's as timely as ever, with parallels to the Land Back movement and countless other indigenous and aboriginal rights moments. The fact that such racial issues still play out today only adds to Uproar‘s overall impact as a story. It’s quite sad that as many steps forward have been taken, there’s still so little that has changed. But the beauty in this delicate, if clichéd, film is that it’s highlighting a story of defiance. The film speaks to the strength of one’s own convictions through the beauty of universal storytelling. Funny, poignant and emotional, this thoroughly entertaining '80s-set dramedy is a triumph for Aotearoa New Zealand cinema.