While researching for a temporary fantasy life (a role in a film), an aspiring actress finds that reality is much more exhilarating and life-affirming. Featuring an astonishing cast led by Katie McGrath (from Merlin as well as Jurassic World; whom I momentarily thought was but quickly realized was not Kiera Knightly), Bok van Blerk, and Gil Bellows (Ally McBeal) the romantic-comedy Leading Lady is a fun cross-cultural exploration that will charm any aficionado of genuine romantic comedy.
By day, Jodi Rutherford (McGrath) is a British drama teacher with a desire to get into acting for reasons that become clear later in the film. She is dating famous director Daniel Taylor (Bellows); either because she really likes him, or to advance her career by getting a part as an Afrikaans war heroine in his next movie. If the latter is the case (which seems plausible as he is not very likeable), it is not working very well as Daniel has no apparent interest in casting Jodi. Daniel is very self-centered and seems to have let his status get to his head; but, he’s not the one the audience is supposed to like (although he does have some honest moments).
After an audition goes wrong, Jodi decides to go to South Africa to immerse herself in the culture, history and lifestyle in hopes of improving her performance. She immediately meets Kobus Willemse (van Blerk), a local farmer who agrees to show Jodi the ropes in exchange for her directing an annual play at his family’s farm; which is having financial troubles after a bad harvesting season (adds a little extra drama to a mostly uplifting story).
As Jodi interacts with the citizens of this small town, including other aspiring actors and a budding romance, it is clear she may be moving away from an interest in a big city acting career. But a true rom-com wouldn’t be complete without a few bumps on the road to happily ever after. Her old life still beckons and she must decide whether to go back and continue with her dreams or accept that she has found a new dream worthy of her time.
I do enjoy a good rom-com and this one easily ranks among the better quality. Leading Lady has remarkable acting with authentic characters, a well-crafted (albeit predictable-ish) story, impressive locations and scenery, splendid directing from co-writer Hank Pretorius, and a soundtrack that would brighten some of the darkest days. The subplots, including a few scenes with one of the farm’s employees and a courtship involving Kobus’s mother, are cute, funny, and compliment the main story quite nicely. No, it doesn’t really break any new ground, but classic stories are still entertaining if told well, as was Leading Lady.
On VOD and Digital HD June 16.