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No. 2 (Toa Fraser, 2006) wr. Toa Fraser, prod. Tim White, Lydia Livingstone Philippa Campbell, Colonial Encounters & Southern Light Films, finance New Zealand Film Commission, Working Title Films, Miramax Films, NZ On Air, TVNZ; Ruby Dee (Nanna Maria) Tuva Novotny (Danish Maria); inspired by a dream of her childhood back in Fiji, Nanna Maria demands that her grandchildren put on a big feast at which she will name her successor
I have several grouches about No. 2 (Toa Fraser, 2006) the most trivial being its title. In the States they wisely changed it to Naming Number Two: you can easily find that in any kind of catalog.
It's written and directed by the playwright: never a good idea. He has moved it out of the proscenium arch to some extent, but he hasn't directed the actors for film. They are projecting over the footlights: in other words, 'ham' acting, especially the main character, played by the appalling Ruby Dee.
Fraser has placed his story in the context of Fijians in New Zealand. If so, why hasn't he cast any Fijians in the film? If that wasn't possible, he should have put the story into a different context. As most of the actors are Maori, perhaps he could have made his characters Maori. … But perhaps that wouldn't have been exotic enough for his NZ audience – so they're 'Fijian'.
I came to this film, and watched it with keen expectation, in the hope of seeing some of the Fijians I came to know (a bit) and love when I lived in Fiji. Instead, I saw in the key role an African-American actress from fkn Cleveland, who wasn't remotely anything like a Fijian woman.
Finally – but I could go on – I'm incapable of understanding a key plot point. One of the meanings of the 'number two' of the title is that Nanna Maria is sposed to hand something (?) over to the next generation. But she names one (male) character as her successor (because he's the best actor?) – to what is never made clear. And privately tells a different character that she has left her the house – and gives her her will as a token thereof. Maybe I just don't care - or I'm too thick. Lucky the rest of the international audience isn't.
Toa Fraser has energetically recreated the social and familial environment of Nanna Maria's family and friends, with the help of a great cast, led by the venerable and endearing Ruby Dee. The film plays with an earthy charm and it's hard to be critical of its patchy tone and its occasional lapse into sentimentality or clichéd filmmaking devices (like visual montage over music). Andrew L. Urban, Urban Cinefile.
Garry Gillard | New: 23 October, 2012 | Now: 25 June, 2020