The '80s Culture Wars of 'Uproar' Are More Urgent Than Ever

Directed by Hamish Bennett and Paul Middleditch

Starring Julian Dennison, Minnie Driver, Rhys Darby, James Rolleston, Erana James

Photo courtesy of TIFF

BY Alex HudsonPublished Mar 11, 2024


New Zealand and Canada have a lot in common: we both tend to be overshadowed by more populous neighbouring nations, and we both have reputations for being cute and friendly in spite of our vicious colonial pasts and persisting racism. Those cultural parallels come out in Uproar, a warm teen comedy that gradually develops into a powerful coming-of-age drama highlighting a tense political clash that viewers outside of New Zealand probably know nothing about.

Uproar is set in 1981, when a South African rugby team's tour of the country results in a cultural reckoning. Some protest the tour, arguing that it implicitly upholds South African apartheid, while supporters of the status quo think that rugby shouldn't be politicized. It's basically the exact same thing that would happen today.

As tensions increase and divisions grow, Dunedin teenager Josh (Julian Dennison) is preoccupied with his own personal issues, like the bullies at school and an older brother (James Rolleston) with mental health struggles after an injury ended his promising rugby career. Josh doesn't ever think about his Māori heritage — in one poignant moment, he refers to the Māori in third person, before being reminded that he's one of them — but he's gradually coaxed out of his comfort zone, both by activists protesting the rugby tour and a kindly drama teacher (Rhys Darby) who tells him he's "not crap" at acting.

It's the kind of comedy that's sweet and charming, even when it's not exactly laugh-out-loud funny. Dennison gives an understated performance that's deeply relatable for anyone who's ever hidden in the library at lunchtime, while Darby brings a loveable silliness that will be familiar to fans of his work on Flight of the Conchords.

Uproar bears distinct similarities to Derry Girls — another excellent high school comedy about the everyday struggles of being a teenager, taking place against a backdrop of political tension. But writer-directors Hamish Bennett and Paul Middleditch lean harder into the dramatic elements, with an emotional second half that's even more intense after such a low-key first act. The fact that such similar issues still play out today, in Canada as well as around the world, makes it all the more affecting.

(Blue Fox Entertainment)

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