BY BILLY SUTER
IN EVERY country there is a person who is the butt of all jokes. In Ireland, it is Paddy. In Israel, it is Hymie. And in South Africa, that person is Van der Merwe.
Now prepare to strap in and hold on tight to your stereotypes, because the butt of South Africa’s favourite jokes is coming to the big screen.
Van Der Merwe, a quirky new comedy about the underdog, to be released in cinemas countrywide on July 28, stars Rob van Vuuren, of Corne and Twakkie fame, in the title role.
“Complete with his misconceptions, biases and characteristic inability to succeed, Van der Merwe is sure to make you laugh, cry and, above all, cringe, as he attempts to right a grievous wrong, or make a fool of himself trying,” says a spokesman for the film.
“With a loving wife, gorgeous daughter, a feisty father and a soon-to-be British son-in-law, you will be left believing in sheer luck, good or bad.”
Director and screenwriter Bruce Lawley says of his debut feature film: “I wanted to make a film about a single character, like Ace Ventura or Zoolander, but with a South African flavour.
“Van is part of our culture, a character we can all relate to. He has a history and a place in our hearts. Bringing him to life on the big screen is something a lot of people want to see,” he adds.
Set on a farm in South Africa, Van der Merwe centres on Van’s daughter, Marike (Reine Swart), who returns home from a gap year in England with her new fiancé, George, a British medical student.
This sets the scene for all sorts of problems and challenges. Not only does Van have to come to terms with the fact that his daughter is marrying an Englishman, but he is also pressured by his bossy, staunchly traditional father to put an end to the relationship.
This puts him in a precarious situation with a difficult choice: risk the wrath of his father by condoning the wedding, or obey his father, whose approval he so desperately wants, and risk losing his daughter forever.
When the family of the English fiancé arrives on the farm, the fireworks really begin as the clash of cultures results in a number of incidents and hilarious situations, as we witness some classic Van der Merwe jokes played out in front of our eyes.
According to Lawley, the original script for the film was written in 2005.
“We’ve all heard the jokes, but who is the man behind the myth? Who is Van der Merwe and what is he actually like? What would someone need to be like and how would they behave if they were to be the butt of all jokes?
“That is what the story is about. On a deeper level, the film is about overcoming differences, being true to oneself and about never giving up, no matter what the odds might be.”
Although he had the late Bill Flynn in mind when Van’s character was created, Bruce believes Rob van Vuuren (also seen in Shucks! Your Country Needs You) turned out to be the perfect candidate to play this joke icon.
“We needed an actor with great comedic timing, in terms of both the physical comedy aspects and the dialogue. Rob is a great actor and really professional. He is incredibly funny and he brought the right mix of heart and humour to the role.
“He was passionate about creating a memorable and iconic character and was prepared to do whatever it took to do so. He has really funny and interesting facial expressions, very expressive eyes and a playful nature – all perfect for the character of Van.”
The story is supported by an array of interesting characters that were specifically created to highlight Van’s shortcomings.
Chanelle de Jager plays Van’s wife, Suzette, who is determined to save the day; while Ian Roberts can be seen as the overbearing Oupa Van, who is bound to strike a chord with any audience.
Also featured are Adrienne Pearce, André Jacobs, Rika Sennett, Erica Wessels, Louw Venter, Benedikt Sebastian, Matthew Baldwin, Neels van Jaarsveld and Melt Sieberhagen.
Also keep an eye out for Kurt Darren as a wedding singer and Barry Hilton as Freddie, the barman and Van’s best friend.