Pork Pie: why a remake that maybe shouldn’t work, did

I went into this film a little heavy hearted, and guilty of writing a review in my head before I’d actually sat down to watch it. The reason was that Goodbye Pork Pie, the original of 1981, was such an iconic piece of New Zealand cinema, and a film which left such an impression, that I just couldn’t figure out why you would want to remake it.

Co-written and directed by Geoff Murphy, the original movie was one of several which made up the age of modern New Zealand cinema, an age which started with Roger Donaldson’s Sleeping Dogs in 1977. Many films were made from that time, but the ones to stand out and really make a mark for me were Murphy’s Goodbye Pork Pie and Donaldson’s Smash Palace, from 1981, and Murphy’s Utu and Vincent Ward’s Vigil, from 1983.

These films came along as I moved through my late teens into my twenties, and I can recall, after watching mainly American and British fare up until that point, how refreshing and exciting it was to see our own country up on the big screen. Few did it better than Goodbye Pork Pie. More than thirty five years later, I still recall the jeer that went up in the audience when the yellow mini drove across the old Mangere Bridge in Auckland, with the new bridge, its construction stalled by long running industrial action, sitting ghost-like behind it.

That’s a big detour from telling you about this new film, but it tells you why I approached 2017’s Pork Pie with some trepidation. Again, why a remake, I asked myself? What can it achieve? If you want to do a new road movie, then do it. Don’t re-hash an old story!

Yet in spite of myself, I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed this film. And yes, it is basically the same story of 35 years ago. But it’s given a fresh, fun and snappy look, and all the while treating its predecessor with respect and love.

Again, it showcases this country to ourselves. Its landscape, its culture, its music and its media, are all there peppered throughout. And it again plumbs the Kiwi-ness that many of us would like to associate this country with (whether it’s true or not), namely that idea of an irreverent, defiant attitude which says we care about each other, we don’t take ourselves too seriously, and we sure don’t take any bullshit.

And better still, the performances here blend comedy, romance and drama to a nice road movie recipe. The coffin slide is a wonderful stunt which will stay with me for some time, and the appearance of a certain Invercargill personality brought the house down in the cinema when I attended.

But all of this doesn’t quite explain why Pork Pie works.

The answer lies I think in the audience’s reaction to seeing some of those classic scenes re-fashioned. You might think you’d just go “Hey I’ve seen that already”, but that’s not what I was feeling. It was more a sense of “yes, that still makes me feel good”. It’s like writer director Matt Murphy wanted simply to say thanks to his dad Geoff for making the first film, and this was the best way to do it.

And one other point. I was also wary of Pork Pie because of its trailer, which seemed to me, to make  the new film all slapstick. That’s not the case though. Sure there is plenty of action, but as previously mentioned it brings in romance and drama to make Pork Pie a fuller fare.

I realise I haven’t mentioned the acting performances. They’re good. We are so far past the time of cultural cringe, it’s not funny. So if you still recall the 1981 film, fear not. And if you never saw the first movie, then dive in. Recommended.

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