Approach this as the Maori answer to East Is East and you are a good vault of the way to it meeting your expectations. Keenly observed episodes and snippy left-field dialogue guarantee a long-running smile on the viewer, a smile broken occasionally by a thigh-slapping laugh. Like many a classic comedy character Billy can be relied upon only to make the wrong decision and the situations heap on him. He is ordinary and amiable. When he is due to go home to the wife, others drag him back to the bar for a "special meeting of the beverage subcommittee," and while the hotel landlord reports delicately the precise fruits and oaks of the red swimming in his wine glass, Billy comically makes a Billy assessment of "tastes like grapes."
Though it gets out of the starting blocks fast it does level out and become a little too TV comfortable. It isn't overly showy and that can be a problem in the distribution market and may be the reason for so late a show in the UK, and then marked at bargain price DVD in the shops. It is likely to have done well at the New Zealand box-office, particularly with Cliff Curtis as the star and with the safely assumed local popularity of the novel. Curtis came to prominence in Once Were Warriors and was whisked off to America to give strong support in big movies like Deep Rising, Virus, Three Kings and Collateral Damage, his skin tones passing him off for everything from South American to Iraqi. In between, he returned home to lend weight to this production that otherwise comprised of Shortland Street regulars and lay-offs from The Tribe, and he probably got a heck of a lot more out of the home front experience as an actor for doing so. If he is a natural charmer, his Caucasian wife Pauline, possesses a smile that could bud flowers. They are a perfect mishap couple. All the Maori women are big and it's the way most of the locals fellows like it. Back in the plot, the 75th Jubilee plans for the town include inviting back its famous son, the handsome rugby player Max Seddon (Kevin Smith) - Pauline's first love.
While he has gone big, lived the city life, and travelled, she has struggled in the happy shambles. The last thing she wants is to see him see her in this situation, so she continually sabotages his invite, to no avail; he will show. Meanwhile, Billy has to fight off the token town blonde Sharyn (Marise Wipani), a comically saucy scene topped by another hilariously leftfield comment.
A darker tragedy may have haunted this film. Kevin Smith, a noted irregular on TV's Xena was killed in a stunt accident around the time Jubilee (the original title of the film) was set for its release and that cloud may have clung to the publicity. New Zealand cinema had a heyday that acted as ballast to the Australian New Wave, continued to support the antipodes film scene for several years after the commercial worst took over Australian cinema. The Scarecrow, Next Of Kin, UTU, Bad Blood, Bridge To Nowhere, Mr Wrong, The Quiet Earth, Death Warmed Up, more often than not with the late Bruno Lawrence's face up large on the screen. Peter Jackson and the Campion sisters did their bit for the country in the 1990s and the film has become a location for major Hollywood fare and holiday travel destination in general. The adulation given to Whale Rider (also featuring Cliff Curtis) may return some hope and interest in New Zealand film, perhaps more importantly in Maori film itself. Jubilee 2000 deserved a theatrical release in the UK but didn't get it, not even video rental attention and no amount of recommendation is likely to change the matter, as �5.99 titles have a set fate, don't develop into cult movies, vanish to be replaced by the next budget title. So with December advancing ruthlessly go and buy your copy now, they will go great in any number of Christmas stockings for family and friends.
Who knows, maybe the bulk buying will go with notice and next time out the likes of Jubilee will be chosen over a dull, crass British film for distribution. The advance confusion with the title repeatedly assumed to be the Derek Jarman film as led to an 'emergency bag' re-titling, a tagging on of the year 2000. I will confess to have been a victim of the same misunderstand - and glad of it.