NZ | 2017 | Directed by Matt Murphy
Logline: After a young car thief hooks up with a man trying to reunite with the woman he jilted, and a vegan activist, the misfit trio embark on a road trip with the police and media in pursuit.
For most audiences this will be regarded as New Zealand’s first ever remake, but technically that title goes to Rewi’s Last Stand, a silent movie from 1925 that was remade in 1940 with sound. Matt Murphy, who also wrote the screenplay for this contemporary spin, worked on the original movie as a lighting assistant (or best boy). Goodbye Pork Pie (1981) was directed by his dad, Geoff, who co-wrote the screenplay with actor Ian Mune. It was a roaring success, made on the smell of an oily mechanic’s rag, it raked in one and half million at the NZ box office and became a cult classic to boot.
Many critics and viewers at the time described Goodbye Pork Pie as Easy Rider meets Keystone Cops, and there is certainly much to enjoy about the original movie’s rustic, larrikin charm, with the kind of absurdist humour that is very much of its time. Murphy’s son has more-or-less thrown the original movie’s rampant silliness out the window, but he’s kept the essence of what made the first movie work so well, a real momentum, a playful sense of mischief, and solid performances, especially Dean O’Gorman as Jon (in the “Blondini” role John Barry made famous), and Aussie Ashleigh Cummings, as Keira (a far more substantial one than the Shirl role, originally played by Claire Oberman). James Rolleston as Luke (Gerry as played by Kelly Johnson in the original) is charismatic, but unfortunately he plays second fiddle to the other two, despite being the driver and the character the new movie is named after.
In the original movie “Pork Pie” is the name Gerry gives to the Mini Cooper. The title is fitting then, at movie’s end. In Pork Pie Luke dons a pommy “pork pie” hat during the sequence when the trio stow away on a freight train and raid a carriage full of circus gear belong to Blondini Bros. It is here where they also pick up the nickname “Blondini gang”, which the media adopts. The remake has numerous references to the original, without feeling slavish. For the older generation, it's fun to spot them.
However it's likely that the audiences for Pork Pie will be made up of aging X-Gens in a cynical mood, curious to see if Geoff’s son is making a purely nostalgic indulgence, or something genuinely zeitgeisty, and the younger generation, most of whom will not have seen the original movie, or if they did, would’ve ridiculed the movie’s dated sense of humour. Methinks the younger generation will actually enjoy Pork Pie more than the grumpier older men and women. That said, I found myself laughing often during the media screening I attended, and was pleasantly surprised, since I too, had been harbouring cynicism after first hearing about the proposed remake a couple of years ago. It's a curious one.
Pork Pie boasts sensational scenery, and this is easily one of the movie’s strengths. New Zealand looks gorgeous. British cinematographer Crighton Bone has done a fabulous job; if anything, the movie could double as a tourism ad. In fact I’m sure the movie was green-lit with that in mind. Jonathan Crayford provides a decent score, though nothing amazing, while the sourced music includes a couple of behemoths; Wandering Eye by Fat Freddys Drop, and Royals by Lorde, while Dave Dobbyn’s Language, from 1994, bookends the movie.
The most notable element absent from Pork Pie, which gave the original its distinctive undertone, is a genuine sense of recklessness and nihilism. It was this edginess, darkness of character even - despite being such an obvious slapstick comedy - that imbued Goodbye Pork Pie with an elusive, curious maturity. Pork Pie doesn’t seem as interested in playing the nihilism card, keeping that one in the glove compartment. And while both movies end the same way, Pork Pie is ultimately much more of a feel-good movie, the chaos smoother, more hip, less volatile and unpredictable, and I'm actually okay with that.
It’s curious to note that Murphy worked in the film industry in the art and lighting departments through the 80s and early 90s, and then nothing until he directed a short in 2013, and then Pork Pie. His direction on Pork Pie is very assured, and while this remake certainly isn’t trying to reinvent the wheel, hopefully we’ll see more movies from Murphy, because he’s made a spunky, funny little go-getter that deserves to be enjoyed on the big screen.