Search This Blog

Monday, 2 December 1996

Dating the Enemy

About the only thing that all the successful Australian films of the last decade or so have in common with each other is that they've been the type of thing you can't get anywhere else. Hollywood wasn't making Strictly Ballroom-style films, nor were they going for the Muriel's Wedding market, and the one they did make for the Priscilla crowd (remember Too Wong Foo...) sank without a trace. Some say cultural cringe, others say the Americans are just too good at movie-making for us to compete directly, but for whatever reason, local films that go head-to-head with what Hollywood does best usually end up being joked about on comedy shows before the week is out. Which is why you've got to admire the bravery of those behind Dating the Enemy, because a romantic comedy about a couple who swap bodies - yep, it's that old Freaky Friday deal again - is not exactly breaking new ground in any direction, no matter how charming and funny it might turn out to be.

Tash (Claudia Karvan) is a mousey science journalist, Brett (Guy Pearce) is a straight-forward music reporter, and if you don't think opposites attract then you need to go to the movies more often. Problem is, by their first year anniversary (which, romantically enough, is on Valentine's day), Brett has found himself a high-profile job hosting a music show that's turned him into a red shirt wearing geek with an ego inflated to twice normal size, and now they're so opposite it looks like their relationship is coming apart. But after a full moon and some fizzy special effects, they wake up in each others bodies - he's a she, she's a he, and they're both about to get a pretty good look at how the other half lives.

Films like this live or die by how well they can persuade you that the two central characters actually have swapped bodies, and on this score at least this film has little to worry about. Pre-swap, Karvan and Pearce exaggerate their characters respective natures - she's really shy and quiet, he's a total extrovert - to such a cartoony extent it's almost annoying, but after the change they're both pretty convincing as each other, and by the end they've actually made the premise of this seem almost natural. The gender-swap jokes fly thick and fast after a fairly slow opening, with plenty of self-fondling and surprise revelations, but even with a pretty strong set of laughs this gets a bit aimless around the middle before heading off to an ending that's about as surprising as a light coming on after you hit the switch.

So again it falls on the actors to carry the film, and fortunately both Pearce and Karvan have charm enough to bring this off despite a few rough spots. Pearce might be a smarmy pain as Brett, but as Tash he's both sympathetic and believable, while Karvan also shines once she's playing the opposite gender, giving a swaggering, confident performance that's fun to watch. It's almost disappointing when they have to change back (yeah, like there was a chance they wouldn't), because despite the creaky, worn-out concept, seeing these two act like each other is really what makes this worthwhile.

This may be no better than your usual American romantic comedy but it's easily no worse, so for once supporting the local product may not seem like as big a chore as usual. For the romantically inclined this is worth checking out because it's date film written all over it, but otherwise - despite some very enjoyable performances - this doesn't really make that much of an impact either way.

Anthony Morris

(this review appeared in Forte#121)

Saturday, 6 January 1996

Love and Other Catastrophies

Charming, light-hearted and fun, Love and Other Catastrophes is the type of film that actually makes university look like time well-spent. This mix of comedy, romance, and a pretty-near spot-on look at uni life powers along at a steady pace thanks to a likeable cast and some lively direction from first-timer 23-year old Emma Kate-Croghan, and while this may not be the deepest film around, when something's as enjoyable as this you'll be willing to forgive it a lot - even if the two old ladies who walked out of a recent screening at the first lesbian kiss weren't.

Mia (Frances O'Connor) and Alice (Alice Garner) are two film school students on the lookout for a third to share in their new flat. Mia's girlfriend Danni (Radha Mitchell) is less than impressed that she hasn't been asked to move in by the commitment-phobic Mia, and while the two of them are drifting apart, Alice is developing a major crush on campus heart-throb Ari (Matthew Dyktynski), a classic major and male hooker with a heart of gold. Michael (Matt Day) is a med student looking for love - and somewhere else to stay after his flatmates lifestyle of wake-up bongs and early morning vomit gets to be too much for him, and over the course of twenty-four hours they all come together in a pile of love, death, and overdue library fines.

This is more charming than laugh-a-minute funny, though there's plenty of humor throughout, but for all the jokes and the engaging (if nothing special) story of crossed lovers, the real appeal here is the energy that keeps this constantly on the move. Much of that comes from the classy and confident cast, who (apart from the wooden Dyktynski) easily bring their characters to life in a way that draws you into their lives. Sure, some parts grate - especially the self-reflexive film-school sequences - but if you haven't seen this already, don't miss out.

Anthony Morris (this review appeared in Forte#125)

Monday, 1 January 1996

Cosi

Australian audiences have a real love/hate relationship with the local product - if it's not a smash like Muriel's Wedding or Babe, it's lucky to get a swift burial in a shallow grave (remember Back of Beyond? Don't worry - no-one else does). There's not much room for moderate success in the world of Australian film, and those movies that avoid the three-day cinema runs of a Billy's Holiday without creating the box office queues of a Priscilla, Queen of the Desert are left to fade from the memory without making any real impression on the Australian psyche. It'd be a shame if Cosi (directed by Mark Joffe) fell into that trap, because while it may not be the best Australian film of the 90's, it's far from the type of comedy where the only laugh you get is when you leave the cinema and see other people buying tickets for it.

When Lewis (Ben Mendelsohn) gets his first directing job, he's too happy to be working to worry that the job is in a centre for the mentally ill. But right from the very begining he's got troubles: At the urgings of Roy (Barry Otto) the patients don't want to put on the variety show the staff planned - they want to perform Mozart's opera Cosi Fan Tutte. With a cast that includes the junkie Julie (Toni Collette); the repressed Ruth (Pamela Rabe); mentally absent musician Zac (Colin Hay); a manic woman who falls rapidly in love with Lewis named Cherry (Jacki Weaver); the incredably shy and nervious Henry (Paul Chubb); and the pyromaniac bogan Doug (David Wenham), Lewis has enough troubles without trying to translate an Italian opera into English for a group laughed by the hospitals head nurse (Colin Friels) just because "none of them can sing, and the orchestra's comatose". Add to this problems on the home front between his law student girlfriend Lucy (Rachel Griffiths) and his arty sponger mate Nick (Aden Young), and you'd think that Lewis'd be happy to use any one of the endless set-backs as an excuse to give it away, but he struggles on throughout to bring his actors dream to life.

Or at least, that's what it'd like you to think. The biggest problem this film has is that it all seems a bit rushed, and by packing so much in there's never room to develop what happens in depth. Lewis' relationship problems are so hastially sketched that they never pull us in, and the obstacles between him and the play's completion pop up in one scene and are overcome in the next without any real sense of tension. Still, this is primarily a comedy, and on that score this works as well as any recent Australian film: The jokes are good and there's plenty of them, the characters all work, even the ones who aren't insane, and any movie that has a rap song that rhymes "doggy-style" with "paedophile" definately isn't afraid to stoop for a laugh.

Mendelsohn is getting a bit old to play a uni student (here he looks like a young Lance Hendrikson) but his acting skills are never in doubt, and there isn't an actor here who gives anything less than a fine performance. Sure, a lot of them get to be over-the-top nutcases, but even those roles are tempered with a touch of humanity, while those with more normal roles - especially Young with a very smarmy character (think young used car salesman), and the excellent Collette - bring them off with both style and substance. It may be a bit all over the place to make its point about the battle of the sexes, but on the whole this is a comedy that'll get you laughing all the way through and hit or not, there's not enough of those to go round.

Anthony Morris

Dating the Enemy

About the only thing that all the successful Australian films of the last decade or so have in common with each other is that they've been the type of thing you can't get anywhere else. Hollywood wasn't making Strictly Ballroom-style films, nor were they going for the Muriel's Wedding market, and the one they did make for the Priscilla crowd (remember Too Wong Foo...) sank without a trace. Some say cultural cringe, others say the Americans are just too good at movie-making for us to compete directly, but for whatever reason, local films that go head-to-head with what Hollywood does best usually end up being joked about on comedy shows before the week is out. Which is why you've got to admire the bravery of those behind Dating the Enemy, because a romantic comedy about a couple who swap bodies - yep, it's that old Freaky Friday deal again - is not exactly breaking new ground in any direction, no matter how charming and funny it might turn out to be.

Tash (Claudia Karvan) is a mousey science journalist, Brett (Guy Pearce) is a straight-forward music reporter, and if you don't think opposites attract then you need to go to the movies more often. Problem is, by their first year anniversary (which, romantically enough, is on Valentine's day), Brett has found himself a high-profile job hosting a music show that's turned him into a red shirt wearing geek with an ego inflated to twice normal size, and now they're so opposite it looks like their relationship is coming apart. But after a full moon and some fizzy special effects, they wake up in each others bodies - he's a she, she's a he, and they're both about to get a pretty good look at how the other half lives.

Films like this live or die by how well they can persuade you that the two central characters actually have swapped bodies, and on this score at least this film has little to worry about. Pre-swap, Karvan and Pearce exaggerate their characters respective natures - she's really shy and quiet, he's a total extrovert - to such a cartoony extent it's almost annoying, but after the change they're both pretty convincing as each other, and by the end they've actually made the premise of this seem almost natural. The gender-swap jokes fly thick and fast after a fairly slow opening, with plenty of self-fondling and surprise revelations, but even with a pretty strong set of laughs this gets a bit aimless around the middle before heading off to an ending that's about as surprising as a light coming on after you hit the switch.

So again it falls on the actors to carry the film, and fortunately both Pearce and Karvan have charm enough to bring this off despite a few rough spots. Pearce might be a smarmy pain as Brett, but as Tash he's both sympathetic and believable, while Karvan also shines once she's playing the opposite gender, giving a swaggering, confident performance that's fun to watch. It's almost disappointing when they have to change back (yeah, like there was a chance they wouldn't), because despite the creaky, worn-out concept, seeing these two act like each other is really what makes this worthwhile.

This may be no better than your usual American romantic comedy but it's easily no worse, so for once supporting the local product may not seem like as big a chore as usual. For the romantically inclined this is worth checking out because it's date film written all over it, but otherwise - despite some very enjoyable performances - this doesn't really make that much of an impact either way.

Anthony Morris