Susters is a coming-of-age comedy romance drama and road movie adventure, directed by Corné van Rooyen, written by Corine du Toit and Sandra Vaughn, and stars Leah Van Niekerk (billed as Leah), Diaan Lawrenson, Quanita Adams, Sean-Marco Vorster and Annelisa Weiland. The story follows three adopted sisters who have grown apart, only to be reunited by their mother’s passing. Attending the funeral and reminiscing about their childhood, they soon discover their eccentric mother’s last wishes involve a meticulously planned road trip to their seaside holiday home.
Leah is reminiscent of Malin Akerman, capturing a restless innocence as the agile and fiercely independent Leksie, who carries the central thread of the story line. She’s supported by Diaan Lawrenson, whose performance as fashionista ice queen, Jo, gently melts together with her high strung disposition. Quanita Adams is fun, sweet and plucky as Cecile, the mom with a secretive alter-ego, while real-life Prince Charming, Sean-Marco Vorster, is breezy, likable and a delight as the ever-ready male nurse, Frans.
After the haunting drama, Vaselinetjie, van Rooyen wanted to do something lighter and more playful. Citing Priscilla Queen of the Desert as a strong influence, his latest film also has parallels with road movies such as Around the Bend, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and Little Miss Sunshine. Injecting plenty of colour, flair, fun and wardrobe pizzazz against a desert backdrop, he sets about creating a more conservative version Priscilla with a touch of Afrika Burn.
“We are not amused.”
Around the Bend followed a similar narrative device surrounding a father’s last wishes and a road trip in order to sprinkle his ashes, delivering funny, heartfelt and spirited comedy drama with Christopher Walken at the wheel. While the daydreams are kept to a minimum, Susters resonates quite strongly with The Secret Life of Walter Mitty through a sense of self-discovery, hints of magic realism, a desire to connect with nature and its feel good tone. The choice to journey in a yellow Land Rover draws immediate comparisons to the running start VW in Little Miss Sunshine with Leksie’s quirky childhood flashbacks, an independent spirit and light family dysfunction completing the connection.
Set predominantly in the Karoo, Susters surrounds itself with the wide open spaces and desolate plains of the region. While it could have been the perfect location for a western, the dull colours of the veld make a wonderful contrast with the yellow Land Rover, Jo’s high fashion wardrobe and its colourful crew of adventurers. Journeying through this barren wilderness reminds the sisters of their loneliness, the end of their relationship with their adoptive mother and forces them to look upwards to the vast night sky. Celestial entities are a recurring theme for the three sisters, who are regularly compared with the stars of Orion’s belt. Having to reach their seaside holiday home in time for a long-awaited comet’s arrival, gives Susters a sprinkle of moon dust.
Susters has been lovingly and elegantly shot, blending the natural beauty of its many locations with its quirky sensibility. Being playful and independent, there’s room to combine genres, morphing from romantic comedy through horror comedy to road movie and back to coming-of-age drama. The music and soundtrack are integral, moving from old school Afrikaans treffers and soulful rock ballads to a cover of Walk like an Egyptian by The Bangles. Susters plays like a series of whimsical sketches linked by the same characters, who are trying to come to terms with the loss of their mother with a specific focus on Leksie wrestling with her compulsion for fierce independence. Each of the orphan sisters is doing some soul-searching and looking back to make peace between the past, present and future. As such, this sweet-natured, easy-going and even touching movie has a sentimental and nostalgic mood.
While the spirit of fun and adventure helps drive the story, it experiences some bumps along the way. The CGI of the night sky and space is inconsistent, somewhat alleviated by the anything-goes nature of the road trip and its celestial fascination. There are one or two moments that fall flat like the Immergroen dance group, the rhino awareness campaign, Leksie’s grand gesture and an awkward final flash-forward. While the third act is touching and for the most part emotionally satisfying with bread crumbs dropped along the way, it just feels somewhat forced and rather deceptive without enough fall out. From this point, everything just fast-forwards to the poignant and tonally imbalanced happily ever after.
Susters does run into trouble much like its reluctant adventurers, but it’s so chock-full of fun, heart and spirit with enough style and compelling characters to make it enjoyable and entertaining. The feel good factor is prized over grounded drama, which makes this a colourful, flamboyant, good-natured and mostly family-friendly fun house adventure. It’s pure escapism and simply rolling with it, will make Susters a breath of fresh air that will be worth repeating.
The bottom line: Fun