“You never even asked me if it was true!” – Tonyah (played by Thomasin McKenzie)
Essie Davis stars as the titular role of Bunny King; a poverty-stricken mother of two who is struggling to fight the social system to get her kids back. During her battle, she crosses paths with her niece Tonyah, who is facing her own battle involving her stepfather. The two bond over their hardships as the world towers over them and we follow them as they persevere to achieve their goal by any means necessary.
The Justice of Bunny King is a stellar film debut from writer/director Gaysorn Thavat. The main reason why the film succeeds as well as it does is that Thavat (alongside screenwriter Sophie Henderson of Baby Done fame) is that they deftly shift from drama to comedy in a smooth manner. Even with the presence of levity in the story, the inclusion of it does not do any disservice to the gravity of the story and lends a welcome respite to the proceedings.
The dramatic seeds of social realism involving family dispute, child abuse, bureaucracy flaws and misogyny are all explored with sensitivity. The climax of the film does veer toward ridiculousness but the payoffs to the character arcs are well-earned. A highlight of the film involves Tonyah briefly confronting her mother and it strikes a powerful chord.
The lead actresses deserve plenty of credit for the film’s success. Davis plays both the dramatic and comedy aspects with equal aplomb; conveying a lovably rogue-esque persona that endears her work colleagues while exhibiting a righteous furore over her heavy predicament.
McKenzie shows she is one of NZ’s rising stars as she remarkable nuance as the quietly torn Tonyah. Supporting players including an easy-going Lively Nili, a disarming Errol Shand and a great late appearance from Tanea Heke (last seen recently in this year’s Cousins) add colour to the story.
Overall, The Justice of Bunny King is worthwhile viewing as it displays Thavat’s good handling of tone within a poignant story; led by two compelling performances from Davis and McKenzie. Recommended.
THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
The Justice of Bunny King screened at this year’s Sydney Film Festival. It will be released on DVD on the 17th of November, courtesy of Madman.