If you want a feel-good summer flick, look no further than How To Meet Girls From A Distance. It's a ripper of a low-budget debut from a filmmaking team who won a competition to have their movie made, got $100,000 thrown at them, and gave themselves six months to complete the project. Things could have turned out very differently...
Set in Wellington, the story follows Toby, a cute but damaged man who likes to conduct 'research' on girls he takes a fancy to. Read: he stalks ladies. He's having sessions with a relationship therapist, Carl, whose strength of sincerity is equal only to the depth of his tan. Toby's nice, unassuming mum is paying for these sessions, and his best friend is also trying to get him to come out of his shell.
Outwardly this is a story about stalking, misguided love and keeping it real, but underpinning the whole thing is an enveloping, strangely welcoming sense of delving into a character's life that's so protected even his friends don't realise what he's doing.
The opening credits reveal the method to Toby's madness - the connections he makes between the girls he likes and how he can appeal to them, mind-mapped onto the screen in front of the audience. His clandestine trips to these girls' windows, into their houses, and even their rubbish bins, are made so much less offensive by the mere act of allowing us to watch. His earnestness, his little face with its eager-to-please vulnerability, allows us to like a character who does some not-nice things.
It's this balance between opposing forces that drives the narrative - decency and deceit, learning and failure, comedy and sadness. Comic relief is a strong part of HTMGFAD and is carried mostly by Jonathan Brugh as Carl, with backup from almost every other character. In fact, Toby's seriousness seems totally out of proportion to his friends' sense of lightheartedness, which just adds numbers to the Toby Empathy party.
I came out of seeing the film with a great sense of having shared an experience. The smaller audience size worked perfectly with the low-budget sensibility and we all laughed, clapped and exclaimed throughout the whole thing. 'Crowd-pleaser' has never been a more apt label.
Read more in fortnightly publication Suburbanite.
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