The inaugural winner of the Make My Movie Feature Film Competition is a wonderfully kooky and entertaining romantic comedy.
The team behind How to Meet Girls from A Distance should be applauded for doing the seemingly impossible by making a film in six months, and, even better, for making it genuinely funny.
In January this year this film was just an idea with a poster and tagline, which was the entry criteria for the online competition, supported by the NZ Film Commission, NZ on Air and nzherald.co.nz.
By July, and for a $100,000 budget, this "peeping tom rom-com" had been written, shot, edited and delivered for its debut at the New Zealand International Film Festival.
It's an impressive effort for first time director Dean Hewison and his co-writing team of Sam Dickson and Richard Falkner, with Falkner also staring as the shy, unlucky-in-love Toby.
After an unforunate incident attempting to pick up a lesbian at a cafe, Toby prefers to get to know potential girlfriends before meeting them. This, by its very nature, requires extensive stalking and a range of unethical and illegal goings-on.
The latest girl to have this due diligence inflicted on her is young SPCA worker Phoebe Jennings, played by newcomer Scarlet Hemingway.
There are plenty of awkward moments as Toby woos Phoebe, and while on paper Toby could seem a creepy pervert, in the hands of Falkner he's a shy young man who gets a little carried away.
Hewison and team made a good decision to keep Toby's audience-friendly; he's funnier for it and makes for a sweet, if a little messed up, anti-hero.
Comedian Jonathan Brugh is another standout as Carl, Toby's "love coach". Toby's mother pays for him to have five sessions with the eccentric Carl, whose philosophy towards girls is basically "high confidence, low standards".
Largely responsible for the laugh-out-loud moments, Brugh deservedly gets to deliver the film's cleverest gag in the third act, which acts as a reminder this script is sharper and filled with more twists and turns than it first seems.
While there are signs it was made in a hurry, and the performances vary, How to Meet Girls From A Distance is a great example of what can be achieved when talent meets opportunity.
This wacky, witty lesson on falling in love has shown the Make My Movie Feature Film Competition to be a considerable success.
How to Meet Girls From a Distance
Cast: Richard Falkner, Jonathan Brugh Director: Dean Hewison Running
Time: 85 mins
Rating: R13 (offensive language, sexual references)
Verdict: A funny New Zealand comedy.