Rūrangi (2020) IMBD description: “After skipping town a decade ago, transgender activist Caz Davis returns to the remote, politically divided dairy community of Rurangi, hoping to reconnect with his estranged father, who hasn’t heard from him since before Caz transitioned.”
Why I took it off the list: Following my Double Feature review of 2 gay drama flicks for Valentine’s Day, I decided to check out another LGBTQ+-themed film I’d been meaning to watch for a while, Rūrangi. After reading a few very positive reviews, I thought it sounded like an important and intriguing narrative that seemed to have flown under the radar a bit. So I decided to check it out.
Note: Rūrangi was originally released as a 5-part web series in its native New Zealand before being edited into a feature film for international release. I saw the web series version, but in my understanding, there is very little difference between the 2 versions apart from some transitions and credit sequences. So shouldn’t affect my review!
Review of Rūrangi (2020)
Rūrangi has a somewhat familiar narrative, similar to God’s own Country (2017), about the difficulty of coming out as LGBTQ+ in a conservative rural community. However, the fact it’s about a trans man having to face the life he left behind makes it a unique experience.
The representation here feels groundbreaking and its cast of relative newcomers should help to boost the idea that unknown trans actors should be allowed to play roles that reflect their experience. There’s a handful of cliches at play throughout the narrative -such as lead Kaz’s car breaking down just when he plans to leave town (twice!) – but in general, the story is solid and refreshing.
There are some interesting parallels drawn between Kaz’s former acquaintances’ struggles to accept the new him and the local dairy farmers’ desire to work the way they always have versus the need to adopt new practices to combat environmental devastation. The fact there’s also a subplot about the native Māori population fighting to preserve their language also fits in nicely with the overall theme of finding and asserting one’s identity.
It ultimately ends on an uplifting, cheer-worthy note as Kaz finally confronts his fears of prejudice and being judged in a very public way, which also leaves the door open for his story to continue. A good thing, as a follow-up is due to air this year. On the strength of this first look at the people of Rūrangi, there’s a lot of potential for a great continuation.
The Entire Cast is Fantastic
The story of Rūrangi is undoubtedly strong, but the film wouldn’t be as great as it is without some fantastic, believable work by a uniformly great cast. All of the performances ring true, even down to the smallest roles (Awhina-Rose Ashby and Aroha Rawson stand out among the supporting players).
Elz Carrad is perfectly cast as Kaz, showing both toughness and intense vulnerability as the character tackles the tricky situation of reintroducing himself to loved ones he left behind. He gives an emotional, affecting performance, particularly in the scenes where he tries to make amends with his stern father (Kirk Torrance).
Finally, Arlo Green is utterly adorable as Kaz’s high-school boyfriend Jem, a skitterish farmhand who’s unsure of himself but brimming with empathy and a sensitivity that he gradually becomes more open to accepting. The 2 have a sweet chemistry as they get to know each other again which makes it incredibly easy to root for them as a couple.
Final score: 9/10
Rūrangi (2020): Worth Watching?
Yes, Rūrangi is a powerful drama well-told, propelled by strong work from a uniformly excellent cast. Here’s hoping the second part of the story, Rūrangi: Rising Lights (2023) reaches the brilliant heights of this first installment.
Directed by Max Currie
Written by Cole Meyers, Oliver Page
Cast: Elz Carrad, Arlo Green, Awhina-Rose Ashby
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