Whale Rider - movie review (February 21, 2004)

Pai is the daughter born into a line of New Zealanders who not only follow a patriarchal hierarchy, but also one in which the first-born son receives special prominence.  Following a tragedy in the family, she is left to be raised by her grandparents, with her grandfather initially rejecting her because she is not a boy.  He learns to love her, but he continues on his quest to find the next chief of the tribe, the first-born son who will lead them into the future.  Pai wants to be included but must continually fight her grandfather's strict adherence to tradition and history, which heavily favors boys and sometimes, excludes girls.


While I liked the film, I found myself connecting with the events of the film more on an intellectual level rather than an emotional level.  Except for a couple of scenes, I felt like a detached observer rather than being drawn into the film itself.  Part of that might be accounted for because the film spends quite a bit of time acclimating the audience to the life of this tribe, but I never felt fully engrossed in them.


At 13, Keisha Castle-Hughes (in her first acting role) is the youngest actress ever to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress, and while I thought she did a good job as Pai, I'm not sure that I entirely agree with the nomination.


Because all of the actors speak with a New Zealand accent, some quite heavy, I had a bit of difficulty at times understanding everything, though never to the point of being unable to follow the story.


A marginal recommend.




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