Making Rain

REVIEW by Willard Manus

Time was, a coming-of-age story about a teenager learning about sex from an older person would always have a boy as its hero. Things are different, though, in the 21st century. Thanks to feminism and its resulting wave of women filmmakers, more often than not the focus of these stories will be a young girl.

A case in point is RAIN, a first feature by New Zealand writer/director
Christine Jeffs. Adapted from the novel by Kirsty Gunn, the film stars
Alicia Fulford-Wierzbicki as Janey, a 14-year- old who becomes attracted
to Cady (Marton Csokas, a Russell Crowe lookalike). Cady is a lowkey,
macho kind of guy who lives on his own boat and supports his hedonistic
lifestyle by taking photographs for a living. Not only does he make love to Janey, but to her mother Kate, played with an easy sensual assurance by Sarah Peirse.

Actually, it happens the other way around; Cady first makes love to Kate, an act that Janey inadvertently observes. And while she tells no one about her discovery, least of all her father, Ed (Ailstar Browning), a shlump of a man whose idea of coping with problems is to go fishing, the knowledge gnaws away at her and makes her more and more resentful of Kate. Seducing Cady is a way of exacting revenge on her mother.

Jeffs' family drama, shot on a miniscule budget, takes place in a distant corner of New Zealand, at the edge of an estuary overlooked by a string of cottages inhabited by a bunch of people who while the summer away by swimming, fishing, boating and partying. The group's langorous days and nights under warm Pacific skies are skilfully brought to life by Jeffs, who shows a strong visual style that is matched by her deft touch with actors.

Jeffs also contributes an understated script which shies away from big
confrontational scenes and urgent drama. It makes for a muted kind of
storytelling which unfolds at a slow and deliberate pace, and at times feels overly controlled and bloodless.

The story is narrated by Janey, a convincing mixture of girlishness and
sophistication who is caught between her parents' battles with each other. She knows that Kate yearns for passion and excitement, the two things that the easygoing but emotionally distant Ed can no longer give her. The two of them, like most of the other people vacationing by the sea, blunt the jagged edges of their boredom and mediocrity with lashings of alcohol.

The amount of booze consumed in this 90-minute feature would make a
Taliban fly into a homicidal rage. Kate and Ed guzzle not just the nights but the days away, leaving Janey and her younger brother Jim (the impish, freckle-faced Aaron Murphy) to fend for themselves. Kate and Ed also think it's amusing to let 14-year-old Janey try daquiris and martinis.

There is a price to pay for this kind of self-indulgent behavior, and the irony (and strength) of the film is that the one person who understands this suffers the most. To explain this would give away the ending of RAIN. Suffice to say that the film hits hard in its climactic scenes and comes to a tragic but inevitable conclusion.

RAIN works on various levels. Not only is it a coming-of-age story but a compelling study of a mother-daughter relationship. It also has things to say about marriage, aging and sex in our time. Beautifully shot by John Toon (who is especially good at capturing the many colors and essences of the sea), RAIN has a fresh, lyrical feel to it. Although it is often undermined by its musical score (Neil Finn's songs keep tipping off the action in lugubrious fashion), the film must be counted as a success.