Naming Number Two

"Naming Number Two" is an independent film from New Zealand, based on the award winning play "No. 2" by Toa Fraser, who also directed the movie. Toa Fraser was born in 1975 in Britain to a British mother and Fijian father. He has lived in New Zealand since 1989.

CYAN PICTURES is distributing the film and a couple of weeks ago asked me to write a review prior to the film's release on July 27th. When I agreed to do so, I was totally unfamiliar with the movie, but have watched it three times now. I'm no professional movie critic, but I enjoy that medium and certainly have opinions about the craft, so I am happy to share my observations for whatever they are worth.

The story is about an elderly Fijian woman, Nanna Maria (Ruby Dee), who lives in Mt. Roskill, a suburb of Auckland, New Zealand, with one of her grandsons, Irasmus (Rene Naufahu), and her grand daughter, and single mom, Charlene (Mia Blake). One morning she awakes from a dream and announces that she wants to convene all of her grandchildren that day for a big party at which she will announce her successor - her "number two" - and tells Irasmus and Charlene to make it so. No small task as there are five grand kids to round up. Plus there are two sons and a daughter who don't get along but are too curious to stay away in spite of their mother's wishes.

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Family tensions and the logistics of putting it all together on such short notice threaten to make the whole plan fly apart (or blow up in her face) at any moment, but Nanna Maria is a strong willed woman. She wants only her grandchildren there, and no "outsiders", but of course her children do come and though her aloof businessman grandson, Tyson (Xavier Horan), reluctantly does show up, he has his English girlfriend (Tuva Novotny)in tow.

I'll let you get to know the rest of the characters as you watch the film. There are a lot of characters (a family full) and it is amazing how well we get to know each of them in the space of 94 minutes. The very talented cast put in great performances. Taungaroa Emile (who played Boogie in Once Were Warriors and Willie in Whale Rider) was outstanding as grandson "Soul". Very skillful writing and directing on Toa Fraser's part, and brilliant cinematography by veteran Leon Narbey made all the disparate elements fit seamlessly together. It is rather amazing how chaos is brought to order in this film.

As much tension as there is, there is also plenty of humor to break it up. A choice scene pokes fun at "Lord of Rings" fans. One of the sons, Percy, is a tour guide and after pointing out and naming the mountain peaks around Auckland, a German tourist asks with a puzzled expression, "But where is it? Where is Mount Doom?" Percy replies "I don't know, it's over in Hamilton I think."

Another source of both tension and humor is Nanna Maria's wish to have a pig killed for the feast. Tradition clashes with the modern cultural views of such things shared by some of the grand kids - they eat meat, but don't want to have anything to do with killing the pig. It makes for some great lines, particularly from granddaughter Hibiscus (Miriama McDowell).

Weaving it all together is Nanna Maria's strength of character and the love that binds families together even in the face of culture clashes, changing traditions, long standing feuds, and sibling rivalries. So who will Nanna Maria name her number two? That also is a surprise.

Naming Number Two is a very well crafted film, full of unexpected turns that entertain, enlighten, and warm your heart. Rated PG, it's great family summer entertainment. Don't miss it.

Naming Nunber Two website


Peceli and Wendy's Blog said...

Okay, it's named 'Naming Number Two' where you are. It was just 'No 2' here and people didn't know what it was about. I didn't know the meaning of the title until you explained it!
We saw it at the theatre a while back and sang along 'Sai Levuka Ga' every time the song came up - we were the only ones in the theatre except for a young couple who only stayed 15 minutes. But the main actor is not Fijian, but Afro-American and the 'sons' and 'daughters' are mostly Samoan! But we enjoyed it. We have a DVD of it now to watch again.

Lrong said...

Hey, not too a bad a critic eh... now, at least you know you have an option if you lose your present job...

Pandabonium said...

Wendy - The movie is not available in Japan and in Europe and America it has only been shown at film festivals. They sent me a DVD of it. It will be called Naming Number Two in America.

Personally, I didn't see the film as being about "Fijian-ness" per se, so the fact that actors had various other ethnic backgrounds didn't matter. To me it seems more of a universal story for immigrant families everywhere whose children adopt new ways, and also about the concept of family.

Ruby Dee is a superb actress and quite a catch for a small film like this.

Did you feel that not having Fijian actors detracted from the film?

Lrong- lose what job? ;^) I'm not much of a writer and I'm pretty picky about films, so wouldn't do well at it.

Swinebread said...

I love Ruby, I can't wait!

The Moody Minstrel said...

That movie definitely brings up some very relevant topics that tend to get overlooked nowadays...like so many other things.

Martin J Frid said...

Wow, that is very good writing, because it makes me want to see the movie! The trailer seemed to focus on the more "international" (hrm) aspects while I suspect the film itself has more depth, at least by the way you talk a mile about it! Can I borrow the DVD, pleeeeze?

Pandabonium said...

Swinebread - Ruby Dee is a great acrtess (and activist). It was nice to see how good a job the younger, less experienced people did, though I'd like to see Fiji develop some film industry of its own and in turn a pool of actors.

Moody - yeah, the big global issues tend to overwhelm the personal ones these days.

Martin - I'll look into what I'm allowed to do with it. I also don't know if it is region coded (my player can handle any).

laminar_flow said...

Just came across this post and the preview (have not seen the movie). I agree that the film was mostly about an immigrant family dynamics revolving around the house ownership. I'm disappointed that Toa Fraser did not research Fiji culture in depth, because some of the culture is so un-Fijian.

The pig scene (in the preview)also represents a satirical look at Polynesian culture. The pig itself may be a bit too young for a Fijian feast and according to Tongan culture, young pigs are considered better for eating.

Did the movie, actually show the pig was roasted?

On the dinner table, the entire pig was laid out and this in itself means the pig was roasted on a pit-A la Tongan style.

In Fijian feasts, pork is cut into smaller pieces, to ensure it is cooked through in the lovo. Furthermore, I did not see Palusami on the table or Dalo.

What is a tradition Fijian feast without that?
It is like having a traditional Thanksgiving dinner without the turkey and stuffing!

Roasting whole pigs, is done perhaps for presentation ceremonies, but the practices are few and far between.

Ruby Dee, is a good actress but "Bubu" does come to mind.

I echo your sentiments for Fiji to develop its own film production capabilities, especially in screen writing.
Have written a couple myself, but still not produced yet.

Pandabonium said...

Hi Laminar Flow -

Well, you might not enjoy the movie unless you are willing to forgive such details.

FYI - The pig was roasted on a spit over an open fire. (In the story, the grandsons had no clue how to do it because they had been born and raised in New Zealand.)

To get an understanding of where Toa Fraser was coming from you might read the director's remarks here:

I have the same problem when watching movies which feature airplanes. Because of my familiarity with planes, I catch ever factual error. I always have to tell myself to set that aside and just get into the story and ignore the goofs.

I hope you can get your own film scripts produced some day.