8 May 2024

Movie review: The Moon is Upside Down

From At The Movies, 7:00 pm on 8 May 2024

The Moon Is Upside Down is a New Zealand film following three stories of love gone wrong - a mail-order bride, a long-distance Skype affair and a woman wrestling with death.

Loren Taylor's The Moon Is Upside Down was finished, I think, a couple of years ago. It certainly picked up an award last year at a film festival in Tallin, Estonia of all places.

It's the latest in that Kiwi format that I might describe as the "gloomy romantic comedy". I think of recent examples like Nude Tuesday, Millie Lies Low, Bad Behaviour - all neither romantic nor particularly funny.

The Moon Is Upside Down isn't just one depressing story. There are three, all lightly linked by themes of loneliness, vulnerability, death and, oddly, dead birds.

The first, and most promising, opens on a Russian woman arriving at Auckland Airport.

It's a good line, even if the idea of the Russian mail-order bride is a bit of a cliche.

But at least we like Victoria Hara-labidou who plays Natalia. Certainly more than her useless intended (Jemaine Clement) and his awful sister (Robyn Malcolm).

Anyone who can make popular favourites Jemaine Clement and Robyn Malcolm both deeply unlikable deserves some sort of prize, you'd think.

And here she is - writer-director Loren Taylor, doing the same thing with the otherwise permanently adorable Robbie Magasiva. Taylor also plays Briar who's in an online relationship with her sister's ex.

Yes, we do see a certain amount of bad Skype phone-sex. No, I don't know why anyone thought we wanted to.

And last in the trilogy of torment is Faith, played by Elizabeth Hawthorne, whose husband recently bought a bunch of flats with the bare minimum of due diligence.

One of the tenants was actually dead - along with her late canary - when hubby bought the place. So Faith takes it on herself to dispose of the remains herself.

Meanwhile, what's happening with the mail-order bride and her garage-owning fiancé?

It seems Natalia was lured by the prospect of running the garage coffee-bar. A coffee-bar that turns out to be more theoretical than actual. Natalia has clearly been sold a pup - a pup that even more hilarious bad sex isn't going to help.

I'm not sure I've seen a would-be comedy that featured quite as many people who didn't like each other.

Or, for that matter, who it proved so hard for audiences to like.

The Moon is Upside Down, having succeeded in putting us off Jemaine, Robyn and Robbie, then completes the set by bringing out the one New Zealand actress who generally can do no wrong.

And somehow it does the same thing with the great Rachel House, playing a motel manager who hates the guests.

If this is comedy, it's the sort of comedy Franz Kafka might have written. No wonder it did so well in Eastern Europe.

But for the rest of us it's a slog and one we've been through before. I'm not sure why so many New Zealand films seem to think that the secret of comedy is pain and disappointment.

I thought we'd seen off the old "cinema of unease".

Is it bad scripts letting these films down? Or is it the fact that there seems to be no pressure on anyone to try and make them better?

A film entirely full of unlikeable characters. A trio of plots that are so anxious to avoid the obvious that they mostly just fizzle out. A comedy with no discernible jokes. Did nobody suggest fixing these?

Too often producers of these films seem more interested in supporting the film-makers than speaking up for any potential audiences.

They've paid for their tickets. Surely the least you can give them is some sort of happy ending.

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