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'Rain'

New Zeland drama 'Rain' doesn't quite deliver

Friday, July 12, 2002

By Barry Paris, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Coming of age in Samoa was a lark -- and a laugh riot -- compared with the situation a few islands due south. Ever wonder about existential sexual angst in New Zealand? Margaret Mead didn't go there, but director Christine Jeffs does, braving inclement emotional weather in "Rain."

 
 
'Rain'

RATING: R for sexuality and adult themes

PLAYERS: Sarah Peirse, Marton Csokas, Alicia Fulford-Wierzbicki

DIRECTOR: Christine Jeffs

CRITIC'S CALL:

   
 

A dark drama begins brightly enough on the scenic coast, where Kate and Ed and their two kids have rented a cottage for the summer. It's a little piece of paradise, but their marriage was made elsewhere than in heaven: We soon see that the relationship -- if not crumbling -- is fraying. The vacation enclave is frayed around the edges, too. Almost from the moment of arrival, everybody seems slightly bored with the place.

Ah, but it's 1972, and some residual '60s sex-drugs-rock-n-roll are still infusing remote N.Z. -- which is not so remote as to be without a party scene. The rock comes from the phonograph. The drugs come from the plentiful supply of booze. The sex comes from hot, hunky Cady, an itinerant fisherman-photographer who, in addition to fish, catches Kate's eye -- as well as her daughter.

Those nondescript holiday houses by day look more magical by night through the ocean mist and alcoholic fog. What else to do -- or better antidote to ennui -- than drink away the evening and sunbathe away the hangover?

The constant mood music of Kate's life is the tinkling of ice cubes in her glass. She drinks while doing the dishes and takes her scotch-on-the-rocks into the water when swimming. She's a loving but detached mother, oblivious to her 14-year-old Janey's increasing alienation.

"Give your poor mum a cuddle," she begs, but Janey won't. She disapproves of the boozing and flirting and skinny-dipping revelries, and she's wildly hormonal herself. Mum's dalliance will soon incite the girl's dangerous dabblings in emulation.

In the meantime, she and her 5-year-old brother are left to their own devices, making their own discoveries by the ocean, relying on each other and their feisty-sweet bond.

New Zealand novelist Kirsty Gunn's story speaks to the fateful transience of life's key moments and the fine (or is it thick and murky?) line between child- and adult-hood. It has the slow pace of tragedy and almost succumbs to that, but is saved by -- and owes its cinematic life to -- five fine performances.

Chief among them is Sarah Peirse's as the mother, a kind of latter-day Glenda Jackson with her mature passion, deep voice and tough melancholy (you'll pardon the oxymoron). Marton Csokas as the sexual catalyst well renders and represents everything her dull, nice-guy husband (Alistair Browning) lacks -- the yin of momentum to the yang of inertia.

As Janey, young Alicia Fulford-Wierzbicki (try getting THAT on a movie marquee) has perfect adolescent attitude -- and seductiveness -- for her role, consumed with sex one minute, with her paper dolls the next, exuding confidence without the slightest basis for it. She is best when bonding with her little brother, Aaron Murphy, who marches behind and shadows her everywhere, his great freckled face and beautiful innocence stealing the show.

The problem with that show, from an American audience standpoint, is that its combination of New Zealand accents and low-fidelity dialogue recording often makes the language sound more akin to Tibetan than English. Too much treble?

Too much trouble.

"Rain" is intelligent and emotionally provocative throughout but as esoteric as its title: There's never any rain! There's just the gathering clouds and "scent" of a storm, making us wonder whether it's something cleansing or ominous that's brewing -- and leaving us a bit unsatisfied when we find out.

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