This heartfelt, straightforwardish drama from New Zealand ends with a belting cover of Bronski Beat’s LGBTQ+ anthem Smalltown Boy: a song about a young man leaving home to find love and acceptance in the city. Rūrangi picks up a similar story a decade later, when a trans man goes back to the dairy farm where he grew up. It’s a film that thrums with warmth and gives the rest a lesson in how to get trans representation right: all the trans roles are played by trans actors (and for good measure some non-trans – or non-specific – roles too).
Elz Carrad gives a likably vulnerable performance as Caz, who ran away as a teenager to Auckland, where he has made a new family in the LGBTQ+ community, transitioned, found work as a trans activist and acquired a gorgeous boyfriend. When Caz arrives back in his home town Rūrangi, all the confidence vanishes. He feels as if he has to explain himself all the time. His dad Gerald (Kirk Torrance) doesn’t recognise him, then struggles to accept him. He also can’t forgive Caz for not coming back for his mum’s funeral. (She died of a rare cancer linked to chemical fertilisers.) Since then, old-school Gerald has become an environmental activist, so, right there you know he is capable of a change of heart.
One of my issues with the film is that in its hurry for happy endings all round, the relationships feel a bit underdeveloped. In flashback, awkwardly edited, we see the crisis in Caz’s Auckland life, the thing that sent him home; like the film itself, the backstory runs along conventional lines. Still, Rūrangi gets by on its sheer warmth and a lovely streak of optimism about human nature.