Movie Review – Take Home Pay

TL;DR – A look at what happens when the competing interests of money and family collide

Score – 4 out of 5 stars

Post-Credit Scene – There is no post-credit scene

Take Home Pay. Image Credit: M2S1 Films.

Review

Today we get to dive back into the world of Pasifika Cinema as we explore a film that takes on themes like tradition v modernity, brother v brother, money v family, and honour v fun. However, all of this is tempered by a comedic style that is unique to this part of the world and a heart that just shines.

So to set the scene, Popo (Ronnie Taulafo) and Alama (Vito Vito) are brothers living in rural Samoa working for their father planting, harvesting, and selling taro. Alama dreams of ways to make things easier for his family, even if it does not always go right, and Popo just dreams of getting out of the country. Well that opportunity arrives when they need labourers in New Zealand and both Alama and Popo get the chance to earn some more money for home. They spend their days picking kiwifruit and all is going well until the day they have to leave and Popo runs off, with both his and all of Alama’s money.

The pain of betrayal and loss. Take Home Pay. Image Credit: M2S1 Films.
The pain of betrayal and loss. Image Credit: M2S1 Films.

This is the third film from Stallone Vaiaoga-Ioasa and it has been really interesting to watch his growth from Three Wise Cousins to Hibiscus & Ruthless, to here. Where you see that growth really shows is in the Lima Tau (Samoan Marital Arts) sequences. To give that extra impact it looks like the films use slightly sped up film with cut frames, which makes each hit land. When you use this technique it can feel a bit forced, however, here they use it in tandem with a perfect sweeping camera and it all works together. You also see this in surprising places like with subtitles. For many films subtitles are just an afterthought, which you add in the last moments. However, in this film they use subtitles to show character growth and I have never seen them used in such a creative way that adds to the film. Or you just see or in this case hear it in the perfectly timed musical queues.  

The heart of this film is the hunt for Popo, with Alama and private eye Bob Titilo (Tofiga Fepulea’i) in hot pursuit. It is here where the film finds its heart and its humour. There is a feeling of pain and also betrayal for Alama who is trying to find out why Popo ran off. The film has an interesting job of creating Popo to be both the antagonist but also a sympathetic character (well to a point, taking both his and Alama’s money is crossing a line). All of this is juxtaposed with some real surreal comedy like a sing-off for information and the swing in tone should not work but it really does.

Take Home Pay. Image Credit: M2S1 Films.
The film is fantastic in managing the shifting tones throughout. Image Credit: M2S1 Films.

Part of what helps it work is the very stoic-honest personality of Alama played perfectly by Vito Vito. There is a quiet calm about him that kind of reminded me of some of Jackie Chan’s work. He becomes the rock that the film centres around both literally and metaphorically. So it becomes more and more interesting when he runs into all the different people like Cindy of Samoa in his quest. This flows into the themes of tradition v modernity and how that works within a family structure which is an area that Stallone Vaiaoga-Ioasa has explored in the past and they are one of the few filmmakers that I have seen that can really explore the nuance in that debate.

There is so much about this film that I really liked but there were one or two things that did frustrate me a little bit. While the humour was mostly quite funny in an almost absurdist kind of way, they could have dialled back on the fat jokes a little bit. [SPOILERS] As well as this, part of what makes Popo a sympathetic character is that we see where he comes from and that his father probably crosses that line from strict/traditional to being straight-up abusive (he is shown throwing furniture at them). However, while everyone else gets interesting character arcs, it does feel like he got let off in the end and didn’t really learn anything [END OF SPOILERS]. Also while it is not Return of the King levels of multiple endings, there were a lot of them.  None of these are major issues, more just little things that did stand out in what was otherwise a fantastic film.

Take Home Pay. Image Credit: M2S1 Films.
One of the highlights of the film is the excellently crafted choreographed martial arts scenes. Image Credit: M2S1 Films.

n the end, do we recommend Take Home Pay? Absolutely! It was funny, it had great characters, indeed I would recommend it for Yvonne Maea-Brown alone, and it also is dealing with what are really important themes. It is also great to see Pasifika filmmakers shine and telling stories that are important to them and I hope we see more and more in the future.       

By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.

Have you watched Take Home Pay?, let us know what you thought in the comments below, feel free to share this review on any of the social medias and you can follow us Here. Check out all our past reviews and articles Here, and have a happy day.
 

Credits –
All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of Take Home Pay
Directed by
– Stallone Vaiaoga-Ioasa
Written by – Stallone Vaiaoga-Ioasa
Story by – Stallone Vaiaoga-Ioasa & Abba-Rose Vaiaoga-Ioasa
Production/Distribution Companies – Cadness Street &M2S1 Films
Starring
– Vito Vito, Ronnie Taulafo, Tofiga Fepulea’I, Simon Clark, Cindy of Samoa, Luci Hare, Yvonne Maea-Brown, James Maeva, Tim Waikiki Mitipelo, Lydia Peckham, David Tua and Sam Neil        
Rating – Australia: PG; New Zealand: M;

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