DIRECTOR: Henk Pretorius
CAST: Katie McGrath, Bok van Blerk, Gil Bellows, André Stolz, Brümilda van Rensburg, Craig Palm
RUNNING TIME: 100 minutes
EVERY film industry has it’s own trademark. While Hollywood gravitates towards those cash-cow rags-to-riches and enchanting fairytale offerings, Bollywood is anchored by tragic, lovelorn and melodramatic storytelling.
In SA, we have a rich tapestry of ideas that talk to our vibrant culture, diversity and history. Although some directors reveal a proclivity for all things gritty, Henk Pretorius is known for his slice of life, humour-filled, offerings.
Leading Lady taps into those talents… and then some. I guess his real-life experience with a cross-cultural romance has flavoured his imagination.
The rom-com is peppered with an array of colourful characters. At the heart of the tale, though, is Jodi Rutherford (McGrath). This British teacher is hoping to land the lead role of an Afrikaans war heroine in Daniel Taylor’s (Bellows) movie. He is an influential, albeit conceited, director who also happens to be her non-committal boyfriend.
After her audition doesn’t go quite as planned, Jodi opts for a more surreal experience to heighten her performance and heads to SA, where she encounters Kobus Willemse (Van Blerk), an Afrikaans farmer who is on the brink on losing his land.
His mother Magdaleen (Van Rensburg), however, is over the moon when Kobus “brings a girl home”.
Oblivious to how dire their finances are, she reels Jodi into staging their annual concert. And everyone from their small dorpie (town) turns up to audition.
In the interim, Kobus, nudged by his brother Japie (Stolz) and farmhand Petrus (Palm), an aspiring actor, starts warming up to Jodi and her eccentricities.
As is the blueprint of rom-coms, just as things seem to be smooth sailing – the other shoe drops. In this case, it is Daniel’s arrival.
There are myriad reasons why Leading Lady works. Casting is at the forefront.
Pretorius is also a masterful storyteller. While he isn’t treading new ground here, manages to cobble together different elements into a pleasurable experience, like with Jodi’s crash course on flagging down an SA taxi – especially one with a spanner for a steering wheel.
He also creates this compelling sense of small town camaraderie while creating a rib tickling distraction with Magdaleen and Japie’s comical courtship.
And the principal cast of McGrath, Van Blerk and Bellows are delightful. Each does such justice to their characters short-comings while also learning important life lessons. Palm is a riot in his supporting role, as is Stoltz.
Leading Lady is an infectiously charming tale that, in exploring the cultural clashes of two nationalities, provides oodles of hilarious moments amid dramatic undertones. It’s not trying to be anything more than an unfussy, relatable and entertaining distraction.
If you liked Semi-Soet or Fanie Fourie’s Lobola, you should enjoy this.