There's one big hurdle to thoroughly enjoying the cheerfully offbeat, fanciful romantic Kiwi comedy "The Price of Milk" (well, one big hurdle besides that truly awful title) and it is this: You have to be able to sympathize with a girl who sabotages her fiancé's entire life in a misguided attempt to rekindling their love.
You see, effervescent tomboy Lucinda (Danielle Cormack) has gotten it into her head that her eccentrically enchanted life with her devoted but struggling farm boy Rob (Karl Urban) has somehow soured. This only a day or two after a marriage proposal and a sweetly sexy candlelight dinner while bathing under the stars in a backyard bathtub.
Lucinda confides in a friend who says, "Do you and Rob fight? No? Ohhh, well that could be the problem!" And on this piece of meritless advice, she turns Rob's life upside down to test him -- then has to spend the rest of the movie trying to right it again.
After a few pin-prick attempts to raise the ire of easy-going Rob, Lucinda goes all out, swapping his entire dairy heard -- all 117 cows on which they make a living -- simply to recover a quilt stolen off their bed in the middle of the night by a mystical old Maori woman (Rangi Motu) whom Lucinda hit with her car the day before.
Rob, understandably, explodes. Now they're definitely fighting, and it isn't at all what Lucinda had hoped. Exasperated, Rob leaves to live in his truck at a friend's potato farm because he can no longer stand to look at her.
Why you end up rooting for this foolish heroine in spite of her considerable foibles is hard to pin down, but there's no doubt it has a lot to do with Cormack's inviting smile, ingenuous frown and empathetic, idiosyncratic Everygirl performance. The movie is a complete delight even though you consciously and constantly waffle between adoring Lucinda, then disliking her intensely.
Director Harry Sinclair acts as a byronic Grimm Brother in creating the distinctively dark, whimsically magical world that is the movie's rural New Zealand setting. Rob and Lucinda live in a ramshackle shanty of a house that's literally falling down around them. But it's absolutely charming and located in the middle of an impossibly green pasture that, even with its muddy roads and innumerable cow doots, feels like the most romantic spot on the planet. It's the kind of place where a girl looks sexy stomping through a field in galoshes and a thrift shop dress. It's also the kind of place where, when Rob pulls off that dress, Lucinda disappears only to materialize 100 feet away, giving him a finger-crooking come-hither smile through her unmanageably curly hair.
"The Price of Milk" is overflowing with these kind of unexpected and frequently funny fairy tale quirks, to which Sinclair adds shoe-string, Terry Gilliam-styled dream sequences, a strangely metaphysical sense of humor and touches of nutty comedy, that make for a peculiarly beguiling atmosphere.
But I think what I liked best about "The Price of Milk" is that I just don't know exactly what to make of it. It's funny, it's endearing, it's very romantic, it's endlessly clever, and it's so totally bizarre that on refection I realize I've had a hard time describing it here and left out many of my best examples of why it's so maddeningly entertaining.
Hopefully I've said enough to tempt you into seeing it, because I've spend an hour trying to cram more into this review, and I just keep making a mess of it. So stick a fork in me, I'm done.
Run time: 87 mins
In Theaters: Thursday 1st March 2001
Distributed by: Lot 47 Films
Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 49%
Fresh: 23 Rotten: 24
IMDB: 6.8 / 10
Director: Harry Sinclair