To kick off the 2016 Vancouver International Film Festival, there are perhaps few more fitting titles than Alison Maclean’s long-awaited follow-up to her 1999 film Jesus’ Son. An adaption of a novel by Eleanor Catton, The Rehearsal mainly follows a young actor named Stanley (James Rolleston) as he enters a prestigious drama school run by the exacting institute head, Hannah (Kerry Fox), and begins a relationship with Isolde (Ella Edward), whose 15 year-old sister is embroiled in a local sex scandal with her tennis coach. Early scenes (largely set at the institute) are productively rambling and digressive, making effective use of jarring (comic) cuts, contrapuntal sound and negative compositional space to obscure predictable dramatic beats. The film eventually converges around a year-end performance, for which Stanley’s group decides to take the statutory rape scandal as their subject—a choice that naturally complicates his relationship with Isolde. It’s not difficult to intuit the rather banal trajectory the film barrels towards, and while Maclean does attempt to buck that expectation with the ending—the group’s culminating performance—The Rehearsal ends up feeling both coy and unsatisfying; the supposed thematic resonance just isn’t there. The students are instructed to, above all, “surprise” the audience; it’s a shame Maclean doesn’t.
Published as part of Vancouver International Film Festival 2016 | Dispatch 1.