Small town rom-com has a big heart

The Star Early Edition - - TONIGHT FILM - DE­BASHINE THANGEVELO

VERY 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 cross­cul­tural 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

Emore 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 short­com­ings 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,

IT'S COM­PLI­CATED: Gil Bel­lows, Katie McGrath and Bok van Blerk trapped in an awk­ward mo­ment in a scene from Henk Pre­to­rius’ rom-com, Lead­ing Lady.

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