Review courtesy of SA Movie & DVD Magazine
By James O'Ehley
Of course watching Wah-Wah, actor Richard E. Grant's semi-fictional account of growing up in pre-independence Swaziland, one can't help but wonder how much of it is true and how much of it is fabricated...
It isn't particularly fair to do so — due to their very nature and structure movies do take liberties with true life events: events are condensed, several characters would be blended into one, some characters and events would simply be left out and so forth. But after a minor brouhaha in the local media following a visit of Grant to the country to promote the movie, one simply can't help oneself.
After all, the movie excises an entire sibling (Grant's movie alter ego is an only child) and no mention is made of Grant's real life brother, with whom he allegedly has some sort of feud going on if the local hacks are to be believed. Yes, Grant (real name Esterhuyse) grew up in Swaziland, were heavily influenced by watching movies such as Clockwork Orange at the local cinema, his father was a respected colonial bureaucrat and so forth — but he wasn't the only child as this movie implies...
Taken as ''an end of an era seen through childhood eyes'' movie Wah-Wah is only occasionally successful. The movie offers no political background for the uninitiated, and the tone is wildly uneven veering from flippant comedy to depressing family drama to unabashed weepie all in one sitting.
Slow to start, the movie never seems to know how to end, opting for that weepie ending which, while probably factually accurate, changes the tone of the movie irredeemably.
Still, South African audiences (and especially British expatriates and ex-Rhodesians) will find the film's settings quite familiar and will no doubt enjoy this particular nostalgia trip.
However, leaving the cinema one can't help but feel that while Wah-Wah is a solid effort for a first-time director such as Grant that there could have been so much more. Maybe because — and no disrespect intended — Grant's childhood simply isn't all that interesting to begin with (much of it would seem depressingly familiar to many audience members). As far as ''colonial types growing up in Darkest Africa'' stories go maybe a much better topic for a great film would be Alexandra Fueller's moving and brilliant Let's Not Go to the Dogs Tonight — who knows?
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