The first feature outing under the banner of the small, self-sustaining Wellington collective Torchlight Films was Taking the Waewae Express, a small and gutsy effort that took us into the lives of several young men after a tragic car accident. The follow-up is more ambitious in scope and scale, which is both its virtue and a handicap.

Taylor and McGlone play P.J. and Ronnie, a modest suburban couple raising her teenage kids on his wages as a truckie and the proceeds of her small wedding-dress business. But things are thrown into turmoil when he fails a mandatory eye test and loses his HT licence. The stress this causes is more than financial - and it's an understatement to say the stubbornly self-reliant P.J. has trouble adjusting.

Torchlight develops its characters using the improvisational discovery techniques pioneered by Mike Leigh and it works very well here. McGlone, in particular, creates such a ringingly authentic Ronnie that you'd call her charismatic if she weren't so down-to-earth and P.J.'s workplace relationships are convincing and well-observed.

But the back-story involving Ronnie's elder sister Bernadette (Brophy) is a bit contrived and the film as a whole feels like it's been stretched out too long.

That said, it abounds in lovely visual touches (grime in a hand-basin; a clipboard swinging on a nail) in which glimpses make stories, and character quirks (Ronnie's penchant for tomato sauce on Thai food). It's intelligent, well-crafted screen storytelling which has its roots in the communities where it is shot, and if the production values - the sound mix in particular - sometimes betray the $75,000 budget, it's the kind of film-making we could do with much more of.

Cast: Rangimoana Taylor, Carmel McGlone, Geraldine Brophy, K.C. Kelley, Matthew Chamberlain, Elizabeth McMenamin, Eli Kent
Directors: Andrea Bosshard and Shane
Loader Running time: 110 mins
Rating: M (offensive language)
Verdict: Home movie
Stars: 3.5/5