Jimmy in Pienk is an offbeat fish-out-of-water comedy set in South Africa from the mind of writer-director, Hanneke Schutte. Her award-winning idea of a boer dropping his sheep shears to take up salon scissors, won a competition and gradually developed into a fully-fledged Afrikaans comedy feature starring Louw Venter, Terrence Bridgett and Gys de Villiers.
After Jimmy Bester’s father’s passing, family secrets come to light. Not only is there a R150,000 debt against the farm but Jimmy learns of his father’s long lost twin, whose successful career as a hair stylist has made him a millionaire.
It’s a fantastic concept, one that opens the door for plenty of fish-out-of-water comedy and heart as our hero immerses himself in the city and gay culture, while cultivating a new skill for hair dressing. Yet, it’s not an entirely new theme after Adam Sandler went from Israeli Special Forces soldier to flamboyant hair stylist in You Don’t Mess with the Zohan and Josh Hartnett battled Bill Nighy for top hair dressing honours in Blow Dry.
Each of these comedies haven’t quite lived up to expectations based on the talent involved. In many ways, Jimmy in Pienk is a blend of the two films meshing the Zohan’s drastic day-and-night transition and the more sombre themes behind the high stakes hairstyling competition in Blow Dry. While Jimmy in Pienk shares these commonalities, it’s not as over-the-top as You Don’t Mess with the Zohan or as down-to-earth as Blow Dry.
Jimmy in Pienk’s sweet tones of home and off-beat sense of humour are what make it unique. There’s a Wes Anderson preciousness for the characters and setting, which is tempered by the smart true-to-life quirkiness of a Jason Reitman comedy. This is best translated in the first act as we become acquainted with Jimmy, his quest and his obstacles.
As a debut feature, you can applaud the film-makers for delivering a film that keeps its promises and delivers a mature, subtle brand of comedy that is new territory for South Africa. It’s a big concept on a low budget and they’ve done a great job in bringing it to life. As sweet as it is, you do get the impression that the constraints took their toll as the story’s initial zest struggles to stay the course.
Louw Venter plays it down-the-line as Jimmy, really getting to grips with his “call a spade a spade” character and anchoring the rest of the cast like Jason Bateman did in Arrested Development. It’s a well-balanced performance, one that keeps the emotional integrity and nuttiness in check.
He’s supported by the flamboyant, Terrence Bridgett, who plays his mentor Bunny, turning Jimmy in Pienk into something of a buddy movie. Bridgett is likable, funny and has enough natural charm to make you think he’s related to Oliver Platt. Gys de Villiers plays Buks and his twin Frederique, a role reminiscent of Bill Nighy in Blow Dry. It’s an uncharacteristic performance from de Villiers, but one he truly owns like the Godfather of hair stylists.
Gerard Rudolf also takes on an atypical role opposite de Villiers as his partner, Gigi. The two share some great moments and add some clout as reluctant game show villains. David Isaacs and Garth Collins make an odd yet funny couple as bumbling entrepreneurial loan sharks. Then, it would have been nice to have seen more of the budding romance between Jimmy and Tinarie van Wyk Loots as Rika.
With such a zany and likable collective of characters, it’s difficult not to like Jimmy in Pienk. The premise is a wind-up and has been treated in a sweet, light and fun manner. While the odd balls are stacked against him, Jimmy never really seems to get brick walled or weighed down by the many obstacles to saving the farm. This makes it all seem too safe – escalating the inconsequential and predictable, while diminishing returns on the adventure.
Having said that, it follows Material and Fanie Fourie’s Lobola as another promising step in the right direction for comedy in South Africa. As it stands, it’s an entertaining, sweet and light-hearted off-beat comedy that teases the story out by gently nudging its funny characters in the right direction. It’s amusing and watchable for its quirky tone, lively performances and cut-above writing that give the story weight and an innate sweetness.
The bottom line: Fun