#TIFF23: “UPROAR” REVIEW
By David Baldwin
The year is 1981 and the South African rugby team is touring New Zealand. People nationwide are upset and taking to the streets to protest. Bullied teenager Josh Waaka (Julian Dennison) is happy to stand aside whenever he sees the protestors. When Josh’s teacher Brother Madigan (Rhys Darby, also at the Festival with Next Goal Wins) witnesses some of his acting, he pushes Josh to audition for drama school. But with a splintered homelife and raging protests outside, Josh is not sure drama school is his best choice right now.
That cynical blurb may not sound like anything special, and the directing team of Paul Middleditch and Hamish Bennett (who also Co-Wrote) seem keenly aware of that. They pack in every coming-of-age trope you can think of alongside rugby and a tribute to the men and women who protested against social and racial injustices. The Directors jump recklessly from comedy to heartbreak to harrowing moments like Josh filming a protest as the police step in to forcibly disperse the crowd. It is a lot to take in and more dramatic than it may sound reading the description off the TIFF website.
Then something extraordinary happens. You want to stand up and cheer. You want to smile and feel the joys and pains of the actors on-screen. What was a throwaway film we had all seen before becomes a heartwarming underdog story you will not soon forget. And most of these feelings come as a result of Middleditch and Bennett framing and hinging the entirety of UPROAR around Dennison. The young actor, who you will likely remember from Deadpool 2 and Hunt for the Wilderpeople, is captivating and commanding as Josh. He pulls at your heartstrings without trying and lands every emotional beat flawlessly. He is hilarious, self-deprecating and most of all, fearless. He gets propped up by some solid supporting work from Darby and Minnie Driver, who plays Josh’s Mom Shirley, but Dennison knows he is the star of the show. He has always been a scene-stealer and a crowd-pleaser. Let’s hope this role catapults him to the leading man status he so richly deserves.
UPROAR screens at TIFF’ 23:
Monday, September 11 at 12:15 PM at Scotiabank Theatre Toronto
Tuesday, September 12 at 2:45 PM at Scotiabank Theatre Toronto
Sunday, September 17 at 3:05 PM at Scotiabank Theatre Toronto