Put very simply, Separation City is a film about relationships and breaking up in Wellington. The poetic irony is that I watched it, and then was broken up with, in Wellington (screw you, poetic irony). The film follows Simon, (Australian Joel Edgerton), who is married, increasingly unsuccessfully, to Pam (Dannielle Cormack). Simon and Pam are part of a group of several professional, mid-30s friends who all have small children and who all are trying to figure out love and life. Rhonda Mitra plays one of these friends, the supposedly German/Dutch Katrien, though Mitra has got the plummiest accent you’ll ever hear. Katrien’s husband Klaus, (who does sound legitimately German) cheats on her, and Simon, frustrated and not connecting at all with Pam, falls in serious unrequited love with Katrien. Unsurprisingly, stuff gets problematic.
L-R - Katrien, Pam, Joanne, Harry, Simon
That’s the simple outline. Separation City is about a lot more than just break-ups. To begin with, it’s got a sharp, dark, sense of humour. Also, being set in Wellington, it’s got politics, sleazy politicians and wry journalists. When it examines families and the daily, often cringe-worthy dynamics of family life, (used condoms, chocolate cereal for breakfast, remembering to buy "cheapish but still drinkable Aussie Shiraz" for a dinner party), it’s amusing, accurate and not prepared to gloss over the awkward things that matter. Finally, the cinematography in Separation City is fantastic. Wellington comes across as the spectacular, hilly coastal city it is, though in Separation City, Wellington's absolute best side is shown - it’s nearly always sunny and only mildly breezy (filthy lies). It’s worth watching the film just for the beautiful scenery.
And now I have a confession to make. I really wanted to love this film. It’s set in Wellington! Joel Edgerton is very good looking! Les Hill (who plays Simon’s journalist best friend, Harry, and who is, hand down, the films’ best actor) is (without hyperbole) the greatest character ever!
But I couldn’t love it. I could like sections of it a lot, but in places the film feels forced and contrived. The voice over provided by Simon and Katrien is especially contrived and unnecessary (though Simon’s can be quite funny). The pace is very uneven, and although the sections with the men’s group are all at once hilarious, poignant and revealing, they feel somewhat out of place, like they could be from another film.
This is not to say you shouldn’t watch Separation City. It is very much worth seeing. But just don’t go to it expecting to fall in love.