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‘Catching Feelings’ (review)

Produced by Tamsin Andersson, Kagiso Lediga,
Ronnie Apteker, Luke Henkeman,
Isaac Mogajane, John Volmink
Written and Directed by Kagiso Lediga
Starring Kagiso Lediga, Pearl Thusi,
Andrew Buckland, Akin Omotoso,
Precious Makgaretsa, Kate Liquorish


As a young person, we are warned against “catching feelings” for someone that may not be quite as interested in us, or wrong for pursuing in some other manner.

In Kagiso Lediga’s feature film of the same name, he worries constantly about who is feeling who, and what that means.

As engaging as the story can be, the persistent paranoia and general lack of charm in the main character make this a much more challenging film than it had to be.

Lediga both wrote and stars in this film that looks at the romantic life of young college professor Max and his wife Sam as they go about their lives in Johannesburg, South Africa. When famous ex-pat author Heiner (Andrew Buckland) comes through town, Max is forced to reckon with the life that Heiner brings to his life, his work, and even his own wife.

Usually in movies like this, where we are looking at the questionable antics of a character at some sort of midlife or personal crisis, there is an attempt to make him or her at least somewhat likable in terms of intelligence, affability, or simple commiseration with the sad sack trope. Yet rarely does Max show the kind of humility that the audience needs to even occasionally be on his side. Instead he is constantly whining about his position in life, his wife’s popularity and social nature, or the adoration heaped on Heiner for being a leader in the apartheid-era writing community.

Even as he is invited to share his true feelings during an interview between Heiner and a young reporter, Max is unable to look anything but bitter. This could have easily been a moment where the writers chose to have him be terribly insightful so at least we could be on his side as an intellectual. Instead, he seems hyper aware of his own insecurities and takes them out in a petty fashion on the older writer who comes off as interesting in his bemused reaction to Max’s diatribes.

You have to wonder why someone as beautiful, thoughtful, and interesting as Sam stays with Max. Or perhaps you don’t, because Sam is not a fully fleshed-out character. She seems like someone who would end up as the manic pixie type if given more lines, but instead serves as an attractive yin to Max’s awkward and angry yang; a beautiful and blandly personable foil to Max’s infidelities.

The setting of Johannesburg brings another dimension to the film. Certainly, Lediga did not shy away for the role that race plays and interactions in current-day South Africa. While Max is hyper aware of any instance that seems racially-tinged, Sam, Joel, and everyone around him seem less inclined to keep the chip of apartheid on their shoulders. During one of his classes, a white student uses the n-word repeatedly and another student who happens to be Black points out that he is probably just doing it for shock value, which she does not appreciate it. Her remarks are echoed by many other black students in the class. The white student seems nonplussed, and when Max later asks Joe about it, he does not seem incredibly bothered by the word casually used in this manner. It was one of the many interesting ways Lediga showed the differences in approach to the current culture from student to adults, from White South African to Black, and from Max to the world.

When Heiner comes on the scene, worshipped by everyone at the university for his writing, Max’s dander is immediately up. But as Heiner feels in no way threatened by Max, it is a complete joy to watch him ruffle his feathers while living his best life by philandering and drinking throughout his time in Johannesburg. As this partying takes its toll and he is forced to move in briefly with Max and Sam, Max becomes increasingly paranoid and unlikable in a way that makes it tough to not resent his existence for the rest of the movie. His suspicions and wild accusations seem over the top and you almost start to wish that they are true just so Sam would be rid of this bothersome man.

With that said could you so Lediga did an excellent job portraying the bitter and nervous Max. Though she was not given much to work with, Pearl Thusi gave a non-offensive performance as Sam. You have to wonder what else she is capable of, though, as there was nearly no range given for her to try out. Akin Omotoso was perfect as Joel, providing both light comic relief as well as the closest iteration of an actual person. But the performance that was the most believable and enjoyable to watch was certainly Andrew Buckland as Heiner. He struck a wonderful balance between the wisdom of age and the frivolity of a literary rockstar.

Even though Catching Feelings has some grating faults (made more obvious by the combination of the writer and lead being one and the same), it would be an interesting date night film for someone who wants to enjoy the lightness of a romantic comedy with the social commentary of an international offering.

It’s a specific kind of date for sure, but enjoyable nonetheless.


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