How To Meet Girls From A Distance

We think he’s creepy
(No I’m just crazy about her /
and I’m not sorry)

—The Eversons, “”Creepy“”

The best New Zealand movie since Boy had a 17-day shoot, and a total production budget of only $100,000. The winner of the inaugural Make My Movie competition, Dean Hewison and Richard Falkner’s How to Meet Girls from a Distance, is an unexpectedly hilarious comedy about a stalker. Toby (Falkner) hasn’t had much luck with women; he lies to his mum about his love-life, Photoshopping his face onto random people’s holiday snaps. The last time he tried to flirt with someone, he ended up with half a ball-point pen jammed in his trachea, which had just been sliced open by a vet using a kitchen knife. (Toby had eaten a brioche and, to make small-talk with the girl, lied about being gluten-free; she freaked out and yelled for help because she thought he might die instantly.) Since then, he’s decided to find out everything he can about girls he’s interested in before asking them out—or even talking to them at all.

This micro-budget Wellington-set wonder—which premièred at the nziff and is opening small, on just 14 screens around the country—centres on Toby’s misguided attempts at stalking the object of his affections, a girl named Phoebe (the effervescent Scarlet Hemingway). He goes to ridiculous lengths to learn everything he can about her, and even heads along to a stupid, Brechtian play at BATS about ‘nature’, because he finds out Phoebe likes the singer-songwriter who wrote the music for it. The film becomes a rom-com for a while, once he eventually meets her, using all the info from his stalker ‘research’ wall (it looks like something out of a horror movie, or every Law & Order episode ever) to set up a series of coincidences he thinks will seem charming.

The movie’s real magic, though, and the place where the script really shines, is in its secondary story: Toby’s mum booked him in for five sessions with a dating guru named Carl (comedian Jonny Brugh). The walls of Carl’s office are lines with plaques and certificates, and there are faded photos of Jane Fonda and Liz Taylor on the wall which look like they’ve been there since the late ’80s. The first time we see Carl, he’s wearing nothing but a towel, and is covered in a greasy mix of sweat and body oil—he’s just been enjoying a full-body massage. The scenes with the two of them—in which Carl doles out terrible advice, engages in role-playing, and takes of his pants—are some of the film’s best.

The film’s soundtrack is a mix of singer-songwriter material and upbeat tunes by the Eversons. “Marriage,” and the lyrically apt “Creepy” may have gained extra-textual overtones post-Eversongate, but they’re perfect in the film, adding to its upbeat mood. With its restrictive budget and short shooting schedule, the film is something of a marvel on a technical level. A scene in which Toby sings Phoebe a song he’s been writing which employs a lighting change and in-camera effects would have been tricky on a ‘normal’ shoot, let alone one that topped-out at 17 days.

Falkner, who co-wrote the film with Hewison and Sam Dickson, is great as Toby, imbuing him with a refreshing candour and simplicity—although one overwrought third-act scene would have probably been improved with a few more rehearsals. The real star of the picture, though, is Brugh: his comic timing is terrific, even if, on the page, his character’s shtick hews a little too close to Rhy-Darby-esque deadpan. This is an impressive production for something with such a limited budget and scope, and it’s brilliantly scripted—especially its wrap-up, which audiences at both the screenings I’ve attended rightly applauded. The second film this year with a prominently placed prosthetic penis (the first was Holy Motors) deserves to be seen by as many people as possible.

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