Election 2020

Jacindamania: The Sequel

REVIEW: JACINDAMANIA: THE SEQUEL

Written, directed and starring: Jacinda Ardern

Classification: General Release

Running Time: Six weeks

Showing: Nationwide

Rating:  * * * *  stars

Reviewer: Tim Murphy

We've waited three years but the sequel to the 2017 blockbuster Jacindamania has finally arrived, debuting Saturday at the Auckland Town Hall to a sold out audience and now on nationwide release for the next six weeks. 

The original stormed the country, eclipsing the favoured Bill English II in its opening weekend and going on to top the polls and stay there for three years unchallenged. It was a new phenomenon, with crowds swamping the show in big cities and small towns, queuing for selfies, a smile and a rub-off of stardust from the star.

The second instalment, again written, directed and starring Jacinda Ardern, won rapturous applause from its fan base on opening day but is a more nuanced production than the original, having been created in the shadow of a global pandemic and, as a result, more careful in its promise.

Ardern, in the lead role, is near flawless, her flair for communication undimmed and her empathy palpable as the screenplay takes us through three years of triumph, great tragedy and national struggle and beyond to a new age of kindness and clean, green carbon neutrality.

The supporting cast is now familiar, beneficiaries of the afterglow of Jacindamania and knowing to step back for the star to shine. 

Early in the sequel, leading man Clarke Gayford, more prominent and reflective than before, shares a confidence with the audience about Jacinda. "I have never seen her, once, not even privately, celebrate the role."

Evidently, the star has not been seduced by the stardust.

Where Jacindamania was a bolter that had huge domestic success, and eventually rave reviews at international political festivals, Jacindamania: The Sequel starts with the advantage of an assured box office. The question will be just how big the sequel can be, and if the release next week by the competing National studio of the season's other big production, Crusher, will take much, if any, of its anticipated takings.

A sea of red fans. Photo: John Sefton

What we see on opening day is Ardern immediately in her sweet spot. She gives a nod back to the heady days of 2017, recalling how the opening of Jacindamania ended with Tim Finn's "Couldn't be Done". Now, wise to her success, she goads one critic who doubted her at the time. "I won't name names, Mike Hosking," she says. 

She is big enough to acknowledge that back then Bill English II and its forerunner The Smiling Assassin had been good up to a point. "They were good managers of our economy. And I do want to thank them for that. They helped New Zealand through the GFC and they paid down debt."

Returning to Jacindamania's themes: "But... I maintain the point I have often made through this term - economic growth accompanied by worsening social outcomes is not success at all. It is failure."

That line, hammering the kindness, provoked the first of many emotional high-fives from the audience. "Hear, hear," almost drowned out the physical applause.

This showing of Jacindamania: The Sequel is so often interrupted by applause that its sign language interpreter spends almost as much time signing the general clapping as the individual words of the main character.

The star takes the audience on a story of promises and achievements, each one punctuated with "But for all of this there is more to do," ... "And yet there is still more to do" and "but still there is more to do." The 'more to dos' give this sequel its purpose.

It will play in the shadow, the memory, of the Covid-19 pandemic. Ardern anticipates the possible changes in how the public will regard her vision and her ambitions in the context of lockdowns, border closures, job losses and societal insecurities. 

"There is no denying that Covid has changed New Zealand and therefore it will inevitably change what we talk about... and there is a lot to talk about."

The opening day reaction from a self-selecting crowd is predictably fervent. Gayford's very appearance gets a standing ovation in its own right. Ardern is lauded, embraced, ovationed, called-out to, thanked, photographed, socialled and revered.

Labour cabinet ministers Damien O'Connor, Megan Woods, Labour Party councillor Paul Stevens, and ministers Carmel Sepuloni, Grant Robertson and Kelvin Davis at the campaign launch. Photo: John Sefton

Every sequel needs something new. This one offers something kind-of new - an old National studio genre picked up and adapted in the form of a revamped, expanded "Flexi-Wage scheme".  This part of the show has the potential to lose some of the audience - it is a bit abstract, a bit conditional and technical. But the star's lines emphasise it will help 40,000 people, increase what they will be given in hard times and it will add in the thrift of using old money we all thought we were already spending to pay the $311 million cost.

Good works, no new costs. A recipe for reward.

Its Auckland launch complete, Jacindamania: The Sequel, will head to the regions, the urban shopping malls, the photo ops and the televised specials. It is polished, its star heartfelt and impossibly genuine, its soundtrack (Tami Neilson this time) upbeat, its bold red vibe and 'Let's Keep Moving' marketing line hard to ignore.

But you get the sense this will not be a season breaking too much new ground. The fans should expect plenty of 'being kind' and putting people rather than economic orthodoxy first. Fewer risks, less boldness.

In the final soliloquy, Ardern has the partisan fanbase transfixed. "When we had hard decisions to make, we have been strong, we have been empathetic and we have been kind. But there is much more to do. Now, more than ever, is the time to keep going, to keep working."

The final soliloquy.  Photo: John Sefton

As the curtain falls, the crowd goes wild, the cast gather with Ardern on stage - hugs for many and a beaming smile for all. The star is swamped as she exits, media and fans, security and fans, fans and fans. "She's all four Beatles in one," observes the critic Tova O'Brien.

When Ardern emerges to face the media about the opening, her only worries are that the room's lighting might not be right for the journalists.  

She's asked: "Does it ever get too much, those crowds?" 

"No, it doesn't. Even if it's a bit crowded, everyone's still respectful. I'm just glad so many people wanted to come out and be part of a campaign."

Her answers revolve around a key line in the script that had been met with audience acclaim: "It's about the future. It's about leadership and it's about values.

"It's about whether we stop and change to another team or whether we keep those we know and we trust. It's about whether we build a few roads or whether we rebuild New Zealand."

Question session over, she leaves with a smile towards two people standing behind and propping up the marketing banners where she'd been speaking, and a hug for a colleague away from cameras outside.

When she departs the venue, by a stage door, a tiny group compared with the Aotea Square throng of 2017 is waiting to capture her picture, shout hello, shout her name and shout out thanks. 

The sequel has a hard act to follow, but, then, they all do.

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