110 minutes(3 out of 5)
Reviewed by: Alessia Belsito-Riera
Stomp your feet, clap your hands, make some noise – it’s time to cause an Uproar. The newest Kiwi film joining an already extensive and impressive legacy of heartwarming and inspiring stories, Uproar, directed by Hamish Bennett and Paul Middleditch, zooms in on one of Aotearoa most tumultuous moments in recent history: the 1981 South African rugby tour to New Zealand, but through the eyes of a highschooler.
17-year-old Josh Waaka (Julian Dennison) has actively sat on the fence his whole life, but for one reason or another, he’s being forced to take a stand for himself, for his whānau, and for the future. Dennison himself describes Uproar as a story about a boy who is “too white for the marae, but too brown for where he is”, which happens to be an all-boys school in Dunedin. With the country set ablaze and divided by protests against South African apartheid and for Māori rights, Josh finds himself torn between keeping his head down to help his family or stand up for what’s right. Meanwhile he jostles his dream of becoming an actor – fuelled by his teacher (Rhys Darby) – and pressure from his mother (Minnie Driver) and brother (James Rolleston) to play on the school rugby team.
A story about finding yourself, your voice, and your place in the world, Uproar draws a beautiful parallel between the tumultuous state of New Zealand and the storm raging within Josh. He may not show it, but inside, Josh is just as angry and confused as Kiwis across the nation. There are some truly beautiful moments of introspection and character development and some heavy-hitting lines. Had Uproar pared down its montages and perhaps taken advantage of the turning point when the tension was at its most compelling, I think it could have hit home just that much harder. Nevertheless, the story has a rewarding and heartwarming arc that is both eye-opening and inspiring.
Having attended an early screening alongside cast, crew, and whānau, my favourite moment of the evening was seeing the audience take a stand after the fade-to-black and perform a haka with unbridled pride and joy.