John ‘Spud’ Milton takes another nervous step toward man-hood (and the ever elusive ball-drop) in an all new year at an elite private boarding school. Like its predecessor, Spud 2 is based on the beloved and highly successful autobiographical novel by John van de Ruit. The first film was a success in South Africa and an adaptation of the sequel was inevitable but as the series builds momentum, does this film live up to its continued hype here at home?
Spud Milton has found acceptance amongst his housemates and friends and he’s no longer the fresh meat of the school. However, he finds his relationships tested by Death breath and his lackeys; all new girl troubles and the notorious housemaster (Sparerib) hell-bent on having the group expelled.
It goes without saying that, like the books and its predecessor, Spud 2 has South Africans at its heart. Any fan of the series will find exactly what they’re looking for here – a narrative charged with South African humour and experiences and lots of relevance. This is definitely a laid-back SA film with lots of local talent and will no doubt appeal to the non-cynical crowd of local film-goers.
The Bottom Line
It’s a no-brainer that Spud is a big deal for local cinema. The books are highly successful and from the first rave reviews it was obvious that a road for an imminent silver screen adaptation was being paved. It’s very local but highly exportable as a result of some highly universal themes and is a great conduit for South African talent to shine through. Now, almost three years later, we join Spud on the big screen for a second time and another year filled with mischief and self-discovery.
Like its predecessor, the film treats the impermanent steps of growing up with brutal honesty and grounds it in familiar feelings and thoughts. Coming of age films always benefit from this type of treatment because it draws in the audience that remembers, and the audience still hanging in there. Remarkably, John van de Ruit and Donovan Marsh make Spud and his situations so relatable that you need not have gone to Michaelhouse or even boarding school to get emotionally involved in the narrative. Most of us remember our own adolescent rites of passage and Spud takes us right back to those moments. Spud 2 revolves around one of these ceremonious doorways wherein the Crazy 8 break into a school office in the dead of night to take a forbidden gaze beneath an expensive desk. Beneath it, etched like ancient hieroglyphs, are the names of all the school legends and the group decides they need to earn their names before they can become part of history and join those legends carved in wood. What ensues is not a random series of events, but tests which challenge what Spud and his friends stand for and how far they are willing to go for themselves and their friends.
A lot of our high school experiences are best expressed through metaphors because we experienced the world through the themes and metaphors in the set works we were given. In Spud 2, Nineteen Eighty-Four becomes an important plot element as Spud learns what it means to challenge authority, particularly the nefarious Mr. Wilson (Sparerib) who crosses all boundaries in order to inflict as much damage on the Crazy 8 as possible. What starts out as any other student-teacher tug of war descends into an extremely personal vendetta which caught me by surprise but also added the necessary drama which I felt lacked slightly in the first two thirds of the film.
Sparerib is played by the extremely talented Jason Cope who completely steals the show in this sequel. I commend the director for understanding the screen presence of John Cleese and how vitally important it was to balance out his screen-time to allow the other talents to breathe freely in the film. Of course Spud couldn’t be the Spud on-screen it is now without John Cleese and he is an absolute pleasure to watch but I was aching for some of our home grown actors to shine just as bright. The very innocent performance of Troye Sivan as Spud is relatable and highly appealing which only helps boost the authenticity not just of the Spud series, but local cinema as a whole.
On the downside however, Spud 2 pushed very few boundaries – it lacked the elements to really set it apart from the first film. This sequel, although narratively robust, did nothing new for the never-ending line-up of coming of age films. It’s important to note that with a name like John Cleese attached to the film, Spud is not intended just for local entertainment and to that end; the film has to compete with a deluge of international films. I fear that it feels like territory explored far too many times and offers few new insights in that direction – something which the audience expected after such a successful first film.
Nevertheless, Spud 2 is a highly satisfying film that is perfect for weekend viewing. It has heart; it’s feel-good; it’s nostalgic; it’s funny and it’s local with a lot of relevance.
About Martin Rutkowski
Martin Rutkowski is a recent graduate from AFDA Film School with an Honours degree in Directing and Screen-writing. He has two ears and one mouth and listens twice as much as he speaks. For him, home is wherever there is a darkened room, a projector and a good film playing and finds nothing more spiritual than cinema. Martin would love nothing more than to spread his passion for films (and maybe give an opinion or two) whilst pursuing several screen-writing projects.