Drenched in languid atmosphere but plodding and pointless, Christine Jeffs’ debut feature is a coming-of-age tale that proves that–Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” notwithstanding–New Zealand can produce movies every bit as trying as the most pretentious American independents. “Rain” works hard at being enigmatic and evocative, but ends up as merely slow and irritating.
Adapted by Jeffs from a novel by Kirsty Gunn, the picture might easily have been called “Summer of ’72.” That’s the year in which thirteen-year old Janey (Alicia Fulford-Wierzbicki) is spending the hot months in a oceanside cottage along with her party-wild, apparently alcoholic parents, Kate (Sarah Peirse) and Ed (Alistair Browning), and her darling tyke of a brother, Jim (Aaron Murphy). Kate and Ed are clearly having marital problems, and she has a brief encounter with Cady (Marton Csokas), a ruggedly handsome photographer. Upset by this act of infidelity and becoming aware of her own sexuality, Janey disdains boys her own age and asks Cady to take some pictures of her, intending to act as a sexual rival to her mother in the process. Her act leads, however, to tragedy.
This precis of “Rain” perhaps makes the picture seem more interesting than it actually is. The plot moves forward at a snail-like pace, and much of it consists of small, seemingly insignificant incidents that are designed, one supposes, to create a powerful overall mood but fail to do so. (The repetitive episodes involving late-night get-togethers are especially tiresome.) Fatal to the piece’s hopes is the central performance of Fulford-Wierzbicki, who’s simply not charismatic or skillful enough to carry things on her young shoulders. The adults surrounding her are a rather dull lot, and watching them one finds his mind wandering to questions of whom they’re reminiscent of (Peirse, for instance, looks like a younger Judi Dench, and Csokas could well be Russell Crowe’s baby brother). The most likable cast member is certainly the red-haired, freckle-faced Murphy, so you can be certain he’s going to bear the brunt of the familial dysfunction.
One has to admire the locations, which cinematographer John Toon has captured in a suitably dour palette of blues and greens. But unless you enjoy watching repeated shots of people waking up in an alcoholic stupor, you’re likely to find “Rain” a cinematic washout.