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TIFF 2023 Review: Uproar – “A complex search for self”

Courtesy of TIFF

In 1981, the South African rugby team, the Springboks, toured New Zealand, sparking violent protests.  Kiwis were speaking out against the apartheid policies of the country, and yet seemingly turning a blind eye to the racism and oppression that the Māori have been facing in New Zealand since colonization.  Amongst the turmoil, a young teen, Josh (Julian Dennison) is trying to find his place both in his studies and his heritage, constantly caught between two worlds.  Uproar is a coming-of-age story that thrives in its ability to connect to deeper themes.

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Josh attends an all-boys school in Dunedin, but he’s not exactly part of the popular crowd.  He eats lunch in the library whenever he can and gets made fun of by the other kids.  He doesn’t feel like he belongs for a variety of reasons.  His father, who was Māori, passed away several years ago and his mother (Minnie Driver) has also felt out of place since she moved to New Zealand from England.  Josh’s brother Jamie (James Rolleston) was beloved at the same school for leading them to a rugby championship, but an injury has laid to rest his plans at continuing the sport as a career.  He’s depressed with his new reality and not really in a position to help his little brother.

When one teacher (Rhys Darby) recruits Josh for an under-the-radar drama club, he discovers the young man’s natural talents.  But Josh’s mother makes a deal with the school to have him instead be on the rugby team.  This push and pull between the arts and sports world mirrors the conflict Josh feels in not having a connection to his Māori roots.  He doesn’t feel like he belongs anywhere.  His best friend is starting to rediscover her heritage, and it’s something Josh hasn’t had with the loss of his father.  As the violence of the protests hits close to home, Josh is forced to make important decisions, not only about his future, but about his family’s past and what it means to him.

Many may know Julian Dennison from Deadpool 2 or Taika Waititi’s Hunt for the Wilderpeople.  He delivers another charming performance in Uproar with an exceptional monologue by the film’s conclusion that ends with a haka that is truly moving.  Rhys Darby, whom I absolutely adored in Flight of the Conchords (dating myself now as he’s done plenty since then) is also a highlight.  A friend noted that he seems to be channeling his inner Gilderoy Lockhart from Harry Potter and he’s not wrong in appearance at least.  Darby’s part in the film is essential and it’s always a joy when he is on screen.

In the end, co-directors Paul Middleditch and Hamish Bennett (the latter of whom co-wrote with Sonia Whiteman) deliver a coming-of-age story that also ends up being particularly important, discussing the cultural identity of an entire country.  Tears will be shed when an elder in the Māori community (played by Mabelle Dennison, Julian’s real-life mother) stands up at a town meeting to highlight the injustices experienced by this Indigenous population of Aotearoa.  Uproar becomes so much more than a ‘teen’ film.  It’s a complex search for self on both an individual and a national scale.

Uproar has its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on Monday, September 11, 2023.  For more information please go to

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