The Most Fun You Can Have Dying is a film that I would not have had the pleasure of seeing if it wasn’t for a chance tweet from @RialtoCinemas. I have to admit I’m a bit of a snob when it comes to things New Zealand, be it movies or music. I just don’t have much faith. I don’t subscribe to the mantra that we should support New Zealand whatever just because it’s New Zealand. I’d rather celebrate finding out that something I love is Kiwi made. And celebrate I will with The Most Fun You Can Have Dying.
The film is loosely based on Steven Gannaway’s novel Seraphim Blues and follows the ups and downs of the life of Michael, a good looking kiwi lad, who we meet just before he gets the news that he has only a couple of months to live. But just as there seems to be no future for Michael, his doctor calls him back in with some good news; experimental treatment from the US has become available, with a 10% chance of success and a hefty $200,000 price tag. Hope again seems dashed until the local community rallies around and raises the money for the treatment.
Michael however is acutely aware of the statistical probability and has other ideas. Instead of turning up for his first day of treatment, he flees the country with the money, determined to have the most fun he can in his remaining months. He leaves without saying goodbye to anyone, not even his dad or best mate.
In other words, Michael, the main focus of the film, and the character the director Kirstin Marcon wants us to empathise with, is a complete and utter dick. This isn’t that much of a shock in reality, after we see him stealing his flat-mates underwear in the opening scene.
But empathise with him we do. If for nothing else than the fact that we’d love to have the balls to do what Michael did if we were to ever be in the same unfortunate circumstance.
Michael leaves New Zealand heading to Hong Kong where he gets a fake passport and embarks on his new life in Europe, where he is determined to party till he literally drops.
Then something unexpected happens and life starts to look up, but the dark and brooding film is an exploration of the narcissistic life layered with the foreboding reality of premature death. And as such, just when we think we know where the film is going we get sideswiped by a freight-train and we’re left reeling and unsure of just where the film is actually taking us.
With a pitch perfect soundtrack and the cold, muted colour of winter as a backdrop, Kirstin Marcon’s deft hand at directing brings the story to life, keeping the focus firmly on Michael and his slow but steady embrace with death. Actor Matt Whelan does an incredible job of breathing life into Michael, a role that demands a lot to pull off. Fortunately it’s a role that he owns and along with a capable supporting cast manages to draw the viewer into his life, loving him whilst at the same time despising him.
The winter backdrop is worth another mention, not just because it’s bleakness mirrors what’s going on in Michael’s life, but also for the stunning cinematography. This is a film that not only hammers you emotionally, but grabs you visually as well, never allowing your mind to wander form what’s on the screen in front of you.
When all is said and done, the film ends on a beautifully filmed set piece that will linger in your mind for a long time.
The Most Fun You Can Have Dying is an intense film that embraces the rare art of story-telling. The kind of story-telling that gives you all the information you need, but wisely leaves some mystery in the film to engage your brain as you contemplate everything you’ve seen.
It’s a rare masterpiece of New Zealand film and an outstanding debut from Kirstin Marcon.
Reviewed by: Jonathan Read