14 Nov 2018

Movie review - Vermilion

From At The Movies, 7:31 pm on 14 November 2018

It's not enough to simply get women to make films about women: the answer to the question "what's your film about?" shouldn't be "it's about women and female energy".

I mean, would you automatically go and see a film that was promoted as "about male issues and male energy"?

I'm pleased it's there of course, but a film like the New Zealand-made Vermilion could be a little more specific.

The good news is it looks several million bucks thanks to director Dorthe Scheffmann - and, I believe, a mostly female crew.

This is an important point, since the cast too is about 80 percent female, led by the always very watchable Jennifer Ward-Lealand.

Ward-Lealand plays Darcy, who I think is a musician - sorry to be so vague, but nobody in Vermilion seems to work for a living - anyway, we open on Darcy singing an old Hunters and Collectors number in a pub as a sort of guest spot.

Cut to her extremely nice home. Clearly the cover-version business is rather better paid than it used to be.

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The initial gimmick is that Darcy has a special gift - she sees colours when she plays the piano. But now the colours are changing.

It seems a rather fancy way of saying Darcy's ill. In fact - despite the title - the 'I see colours' thing doesn't make much more of an appearance in Vermilion than an occasional dream-sequence.

Instead, we switch to Darcy's relationship problems. Nothing wrong with this as an idea, but Darcy doesn't seem to have any problems with her relationships.

She's beating off boyfriends with a stick; her many female friends and their many female children seem to love coming over to chat; and her daughter Zoe is no more prickly than most daughters with their mothers.

Aside from Darcy's illness, the other big plot-point is Zoe and her long-time boyfriend Frank have decided to get married.

Darcy is horrified. Why Darcy is horrified is a mystery.

Another mystery is the fact Darcy's best friends seem to spend most of their time at Darcy's nice home complaining she doesn't talk to them.

Yes, she does. Everyone talks to everyone here. I've never seen a more civilized household.

By now, so little was happening I started missing the stuff about Darcy seeing colours: it's not exactly plot, as such, but it's better than 'people not working and being nice to each other'.

VERMILION written and directed by Dorthe Scheffmann, starring Jennifer Ward-Lealand, Emily Campbell, Theresa Healey, Goretti Chadwick, Peter Feeney, Fusitoa Amosa, Will Wallace, Guy Montgomery.

Jennifer Ward-Lealand in 'Vermilion'. Photo: YouTube

I don't want to be nasty to something as well-meaning as Vermilion, but it's a good example of what's often wrong with so many New Zealand feature films: not enough plot, no conflict, characters that no-one wants to offend.

I couldn't help contrasting it with a film like Nicole Holofcener's Lovely and Amazing - another female driven story of families and illness.

Nicole gleefully made her characters noisy, stupid, irritating and unreasonable, knowing that actors like Catherine Keener, Emily Mortimer and Brenda Blethyn would make us love them anyway.

In Vermilion - despite the best efforts of Jennifer Ward-Lealand, Theresa Healey and the rest of a pretty good cast- there's nothing to have an opinion about one way or the other.

I'm sorry Darcy's sick and I hope Zoe's wedding goes off all right - but not enough to keep me up at night.

I concede this is a film with plenty of potential female energy. But I'm afraid it's energy with not enough to do, all dressed up and nowhere to go.

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