Magical coming-of-age tale
OPENS JULY 11, CERT PG, 101 MINS
Pai’s Maori tribe believe once every generation a male heir will be born to continue her grandfather Koro’s line, which is reputed to stretch back to the mythical Whale Rider. When Pai’s twin dies during childbirth and the community starts to decay into jobless, pot-smoking indolence, Karo holds her responsible, forcing her to battle against his ingrained, patriarchal outlook and prove she might be the Rider herself.
Sociological inquiry and eco-fables (Pai does summon whales from the deep) are worn lightly in a script full of mercilessly earthy inter-family sniping. Modern Maori life is convincingly drawn: wannabe gangsta youths circle like sharks as Koro tries to instil traditional strengths in the tribe’s young boys, but his thuggish rejection of Pai shows that’s imperfect, too. As Pai, Keisha Castle-Hughes-with her spindly young body, hardly a Buffy-tough gatecrasher in boys’ town-gives a quietly heartbreaking performance. Though more serious in tone, it’s reminiscent of Bend It Like Beckham: a culturally curious, powerful girl’s story everyone can enjoy.