New Zealand – 21 August 2003
This is the story of three young women from New Zealand (known affectionately as “Kiwis”) who embark on a “big OE (overseas experience)” in Europe. Apparently the OE is a cultural tradition, almost a rite of passage for Kiwis and Australians in their 20s and 30s.
It starts with Sal who flies from New Zealand to London to meet her sister Maggie, and Maggie’s friend Liz. Liz is also a Kiwi and apparently she and Maggie are currently living and working in England. The idea is to buy a VW Kombi Van, tour throughout Europe staying at campsites and partying with other Kombi OE travellers (hence the term “Kombi Nation”), then at the end of the trip they sell the van…or whatever’s left of it. As the poster says, “What could possibly go wrong?”
Well, first of all Sal fails to communicate to the other girls that they will be followed by a film crew that will be making a “docco” about their OE. Once Maggie and Liz resign themselves to this, they set out to find a van. They agree that Sal will do all the talking, but adopt a hilarious system of signals that the other two will send her if they think they’re about to get ripped off.
They get ripped off.
Suffering from Kombi Buyer’s Remorse and worried that they might not have enough money left for a decent OE, they consider adding a fourth member to their group. They run into Scott, another London based Kiwi, and they reluctantly let him buy in and join them. Scott is funny and charming and seems to have a good amount of money in spite of the fact that his main source of income is being a drug test guinea pig at a hospital.
The addition of Scott supplies the main source of tension in the movie. It becomes clear early on that he would love nothing more than to “root” all three of the girls, but he may have some even sneakier intentions.
The film crew is another issue. Unlike other recent mockumentaries like the UK and US versions of The Office, the crew becomes a part of the story. At first they’re just intrusive and an annoyance to the gang (and vice versa, one running gag has Scott constantly telling one of the cameramen that he’s ugly), but as the tensions escalate within the group the crew has to decide whether to intervene or just keep filming.
Will our heroines survive?
Will they tear each other’s hair out? Or worse?
Will they be able to salvage their friendships and family ties?
Will any of them actually pay attention to the cultural landmarks they see along the way?
The travelers are all well played. The director had a script prepared, but gave the actors lots of time to hone their characters. It shows. Sal is the brash party girl, ready for anything. Maggie is more reserved, but game and a little naive. Liz is high maintenance, with lots of allergies.
Genevieve McClean as Maggie is particularly adorable, she has kind of a Laura Silverman look to her. She has a gap between her teeth throughout the movie which appears to be gone in the “Behind the Scenes” interviews on the DVD. I don’t know if she got her teeth done after the movie (I won’t say “fixed” because there was nothing wrong with them) or if that was a special effect. It’s just something I wonder about.
The film was shot guerrilla style, with the actors often staying in character as they interact with real campers and bar patrons. As a result of the improvisation, the four main actors are also credited as writers.
One of the problems with the film is that the audio seems to fluctuate, and this American could have used subtitles to catch all the dialogue. I have international friends who laugh at me for that, but with movies where folks have accents I’m not used to sometimes it helps.
The movie does come to a satisfying conclusion, but stopped a bit too abruptly for my taste. I would have liked to see a little more of a “wrap up.” Who knows? Maybe they’ll do a sequel where this group comes to the US for an American Experience. We’ll keep the light on for you.
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