An overwrought coming-out drama that feels closer to a Lifetime Original Movie than anything else, "Kawa" delivers interesting ideas wrapped in unfortunate acting and uninspired visuals. Following Maori New Zealander Kawariki as he attempts to come out to his wife, children, and parents, the film deals in soapy subplots for everyone: the son who deals with his first heartbreak (and his vengeful mother, who throws out hilariously overacted speeches to his estranged beau,) the father who can’t deal with his own prejudice, and the spurned male lover Kawariki treats with disdain - a symbol of his own self-denial. It’s got a humane eye and a worthwhile aim, but the boring compositions (the camera never moves, and everything is as overlit as a Christmas tree,) and cable TV-worthy acting render it closer to camp than classic.
Though the film deals with its central themes in intriguingly dark (if familiar) ways: we see the outright hatred dealt upon Kawariki by his parents, his own self-loathing (most clearly on display in bathhouses, beaches, and wherever else he consummates his homosexual affairs), the strain it places upon his child, and his attempts to reconcile a lifetime of lies with his first try at the truth. The narrative does occasionally outweigh the lousy craft - one sequence, with him coming out to his family, is truly provocative - and in those moments when the characters and the internal struggle shine, the film flourishes.
Unfortunately, each such moment is followed by unnecessary melodrama (the aforementioned scene is followed up by a played-out "my daughter has gone missing!" sequence) that renders the emotion mute. Still, the film - now available on DVD from Strand - is full of moments that give it a worthwhile place in the current gay cinema; its moments of stunning beauty in both the landscapes and the acting outclass the more pedestrian sequences surrounding them. "Kawa" may not be a prized New Zealand export, but it’s a journey you won’t regret taking.