Genre: Family drama/comedy
Release Date: August 29, 2003 (Phoenix, Salt Lake City, Las Vegas, Dallas and Atlanta)
Actors: Tausani Simei-Barton, Joe Falou, Fokikovi Soakimi, Kayte Ferguson, Rawiri Parantene, George Hanare
Director: Steven Ramirez
Special Notes: The soundtrack features songs by composer Kevin Kiner and the award-winning 11-piece New Zealand group Te Vaka that has won worldwide acclaim since 1997 with the music, costumes and dance of the South Pacific. The film is adapted from the short story “Eight Cow Wife” by Patricia McGerr; the late novelist first published her story in 1962. Since then, it has been translated into dozens of languages and reprinted in hundreds of publications that have reached millions of people the world over.
Plot: The story centers around a young boy named Tama (Tausani Simei-Barton) who was literally pulled from the sea when he was a baby and adopted by a few of the villagers until he reached adolescence. He was considered an outcast because the villagers believed he brought bad luck to whoever took him in. Tama meets Mahana (Fokikovi Soakimi), a girl who was commonly referred to as plain and ugly. The two become best friends and eventually her father allows Tama to live with them. Soon Mahana’s father takes advantage of Tama and becomes verbally abusive and mean during his drunken binges, so Tama decides to run away and take Mahana with him. When Mahana refuses to go because she feels a loyalty to take care of her father, Tama sets out on his own, promising to return one day and rescue Mahana from the island. Tama drifts for days in the sun and is near death when he is picked up by Malio (Rawiri Parantene), an Island Chief who works for Johnny Lingo (George Hanare). Johnny takes the boy in and raises him as his own son, teaching, mentoring and investing in him as a person and child of God. When a business trip calls for Johnny to travel to another island, an adult Tama (Joe Falou) accompanies him and a dramatic circumstance changes not only his life but his future as well. Meanwhile, an older Mahana (Kayte Ferguson) goes to the lookout each day and waits for her beloved Tama to return and marry her.
Good: This is a well-known tale that for years has been told in the religious community because of its message about the power of love, hope and forgiveness in people's lives. This is a wonderful teaching story for older children to see because of the many lessons learned about life through scenes showing bullying, belittling from friends and overcoming low self-esteem issues. Most of the first half centers on the hardships the two young children face but interestingly enough, that was my favorite part because of the charming and humorous delivery from Simei-Barton. His precious personality lit up the screen and effortlessly carried the first half of the movie with humorous antics and witty dialogue. As his character grows up, the story changes and we are drawn into an adult world of religious rituals, broken hearts and character-building events. The second half of the movie is propelled by the drama that ultimately ties the story together and unites the adult lives. Falou, Ferguson, Parantene and Hanare do an excellent job of delivering touching and realistic performances. This is a story that has been embraced by many faiths, teaching the importance of love, self-worth, forgiveness, loyalty, mercy and faith. It was shot in New Zealand and The Cook Islands and features many Polynesian actors who have appeared in films such as “Whale Rider”, “Rapa Nui” and “Star Wars – Attack of the Clones.” Academy Award-winning producer Jerry Molen (“Schindler’s List”, “Jurassic Park”, “Rain Man”, “Minority Report”) along with veteran producer John Garbett brought in one of Polynesia’s most accomplished screenwriters, Riwia Brown (“Once Were Warriors”), to write the screenplay. Director Steven Ramirez says, “Like millions of people the world over, I have known of and loved the Johnny Lingo story for many years. When you take on a challenge like this as a director, you take it very seriously because the story is so dear to so many people's hearts.” Whether you are familiar with the story or not, take advantage of a wonderful family-friendly story that has incredible scenery, heartwarming scenes and valuable lessons about life that can be discussed long after the movie is over. I think kids are going to relate with the characters who are made fun of and belittled by their peers in the beginning of the film, but by the end, wind up being the ones God gives favor to!
Bad: The only thing that was hard to take was watching these precious two kids being ridiculed and called bad names – especially little Mahana. Hearing her father tell her that she was ugly, lazy (which was untrue as she did all the work) and good for nothing was tough for me, but the ending redeems everything. The only other part I didn’t like is in the end when Mahana slaps Tama’s face. The act seems cruel and out of place at a time when she would be grateful, appreciative, loving the man who came back for her and by all reason would never do something like slap his face. I wish I could have consulted with the director and had him take that out, because I think that action is confusing for kids to understand when the story is at the peak of rejoicing over an engagement of marriage.
Bottom Line: Look for this film to open in your area and take all ages to see this precious and touching family -friendly story. It affirms faith in God who has a hand on our lives, hope in situations that seem hopeless and shows forgiveness and mercy given for people who seem like they don’t deserve it. This is a wonderful family film full of tender moments, exciting adventure and good old-fashioned values!