'The Rehearsal': Film Review | TIFF 2016

Courtesy of TIFF
A modest but affecting look at art/life boundaries.

James Rolleston, star of Taika Waititi's 'Boy,' plays an aspiring actor who exploits an unsuspecting girl for a school project.

Viewers may wonder why Stanley (James Rolleston, star of Taika Waititi's Boy), whose good looks hardly make up for an emotional blankness and lack of drive, would be admitted to a challenging school for actors in Alison Maclean's The Rehearsal. But as Maclean knows, this emptiness makes Stanley the perfect candidate for a look at the lure of emotional vampirism for would-be artists with nothing to say. Treating the subject of creative exploitation not with overheated moralism but as a year-in-the-life social chronicle, the picture makes a solid, if very tardy, follow-up to the director's 1999 breakout Jesus' Son.

After beginning first-year training at "the Institute," where instructors promise an acting boot-camp so intense it might be students' physical and emotional undoing, Stanley quickly shows just how little there is in him to undo. Time and again in one of his first classes, he fails to make the words "I want you" convey anything like lust for his scene partner. But he fares slightly better in daily life, meeting a local girl (Ella Edward's Isolde) on the bus and, though he flubs a couple of opportunities, shyly managing to become her boyfriend.

While he's making baby steps with Isolde, Stanley finds his footing at school, realizing that drawing on an understanding of his womanizing father is a good way to impress Hannah, the Institute's leader (Kerry Fox is perfect in the part). He bonds with the handful of fellow students with whom he's supposed to create a piece of theater for the year-end school show; but they collectively flounder as they try to imagine some kind of avant-garde "device" that might showcase their gifts for talent scouts while winning Hannah's approval.

Isolde's sister Victoria (Rachel Roberts) was recently the focus of a sex scandal, caught in an affair with her tennis coach, and Stanley's group starts riffing on this racy material. They're putting on wigs and employing blonde stereotypes as they try to imagine what might have transpired between the child and her teacher; when they realize Stanley has the opportunity to observe her in person, it's inevitable this will be their year-end project.

Maclean and cowriter Emily Perkins aren't in a rush to generate overt conflict from this betrayal, which mostly happens out of our sight. Instead they focus on Stanley's silence as the stage project develops, wondering if he'll postpone telling Isolde about it until things implode from some other cause. The film gives increasing attention to personality dynamics at the school, where ideals and egos collide and heightened sensitivities present another kind of threat. However much his coursework does for him, Stanley's growth as an artist seems most likely to result from action outside the rehearsal room.


Production companies: Hibiscus Films, THE Film

Cast: Kerry Fox, James Rolleston, Alice Englert, Ella Edward, Kieran Charnock, Michelle Ny, Scotty Cotter, Marlon Williams, Rachel Roberts

Director: Alison Maclean

Screenwriters: Alison Maclean, Emily Perkins

Producers: Bridget Ikin, Trevor Haysom

Executive producers: Lance Acord, Jackie Bisbee, Sam Bisbee, Victor Carson, David Gross, John Maynard

Director of photography: Andrew Commis

Production designer: Kirsty Cameron

Costume designers: Kirsty Cameron, Charlotte Rust

Editor: Jonathan Woodford-Robinson

Composer: Connan Mockasin

Casting directors: Tina Cleary, Miranda Rivers

Venue: Toronto International Film Festival (Contemporary World Cinema)


102 minutes