Making Tracks – Rediscovering ‘Starlight Hotel’ (New Zealand 1987 – 93 mins)

Posted in Rediscover by - January 23, 2014
Making Tracks – Rediscovering ‘Starlight Hotel’ (New Zealand 1987 – 93 mins)

Taking it’s title from the place vagabonds refer to when they’re sleeping under the stars, the New Zealand drama ‘Starlight Hotel’ is a very good Depression-era road movie, about a couple of runaways who end up as unlikely travelling companions.

It’s the 1930’s in rural Otago, New Zealand. Missing her father who has gone to Wellington to find work, lonely 13 year old Kate runs away from her relatives to look for him. Dressed as a boy, she hops on a carriage where she meets World War I veteran Patrick, who is on the run from the police. Unaware that this runaway is a girl, he reluctantly agrees to let her tag along. Tossing the grubby, reluctant Kate into a stream to wash, her long hair becomes exposed, causing Patrick to remark she’s “a bloody Sheila”. With both runaways in need of a cover, the two form an uneasy partnership. Riding the rails, and sleeping under the stars, the pair begin to care for each other as they journey onward, all the while with the authorities closing in.

‘Starlight Hotel’ was adapted from Grant Hindin Miller’s novel ‘The Dream Monger’, and although there are no real surprises, this is still a very enjoyable buddy movie, with the usual close shaves and minor adventures, steering towards a sometimes tense and poignant finale. The characters are nicely fleshed out, and the whole thing moves at a steady pace, with hardly a dull moment.

Australia’s best known young actress at the time, Greer Robson, is excellent, and displays all the right emotions of a teenage girl tackling feelings of loss and emptiness. Sixteen year old Robson had been acting since she was 10, making her debut in the excellent domestic drama ‘Smash Palace’ in 1982. ‘Starlight Hotel’ appears to be Greer’s last movie to date, with only a couple of TV appearances since. Handsome lead actor Peter Phelps is also great as the psychologically scarred Patrick. The 37 year old had started acting in the television series ‘Sons and Daughters’ in 1982, and has been steadily busy ever since. Mainly sticking with TV series, such as ‘Heartbreak High’ and the excellent ‘Underbelly’ (2009), Peter has co-starred in a few acclaimed movies, including the award-winning ‘Lantana’ (2001), and the gripping 2008 thriller ‘The Square’.

With outstanding cinematography and engaging lead performances, ‘Starlight Hotel’ remains an entertaining and sometimes touching adventure, and while it doesn’t break any new ground, it should please anyone who enjoyed the similar movies; ‘Paper Moon’ (’73) and ‘The Journey of Natty Gann (’85).

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