New at the arthouse

Embarrassed by Swinging Safari? You should be…

Swinging Safari

You know a film’s in trouble when the actors in it are having more fun than you are… Guy Pearce, Julian McMahon, Jeremy Sims, and Radha Mitchell all have an absolute hoot in Stephan Elliott’s supposedly autobiographical account of growing up and getting screwed up in beachside suburb in the 70s. Asher Keddie even gets to pee on her daughter’s face (to cure a jellyfish sting), wow, hilarious.  Kylie Minogue though, inexplicitly cast as a morose alcoholic, appears to be having same miserable time as the media audience I shared my preview screening with – none of whom managed a single audible laugh throughout the film’s mercifully brisk 96 minutes.

Many of those writers went on to publish generous enough reviews (though not this honest one, which prematurely calls it “the worst film of the year.”). Well, it is hard when all that local talent is involved, and by crikey, doesn’t the Aussie film industry desperately need the sort of boost Elliott’s own best-known effort (Priscilla: Queen of the Desert) once supplied. But here he appears to not even be interested in giving his own younger self, the 14-year budding filmmaker played by Atticus Robb any plot or developmental character arc, in fact no one gets that. It’s a narrative mess. What we do get is an brisk parade of slapstick, product nostalgia, retro fashion (whose mere presence is supposed to be hilarious), visual gags and badly timed one-liners that add up to little more than shallow parody. The 70s were actually quite fascinating and momentous times – worth so much more than just leering sneers at luxuriant body hair and bulging budgie smugglers. Fair enough, it’s exuberant, risqué and colourful; the fondue party partner swapping is kinda amusing and as mentioned, the cast get to have a whale of time… But paying local audiences (and no one outside Australia will bother) deserve more than a few wry smiles. I was embarrassed, and not because of Ms Keddie’s (just off camera) golden shower. But because this is just another bad, cringe-worthy Aussie movie.

Meanwhile millennials shouldn’t feel too superior to their boomer parents. A future audience looking back at the present will find plenty to laugh at too: Facebook addiction, selfies, Ed Sheeran, Brazilian waxing (what was THAT all about?) and how about all those girls with tattoos! Ha! Sadly, it won’t be an era we can all just erase from memory. Those embarrassing reminders of “the decade that style forgot” will still be decorating Grandma’s wrinkly sagging body. Forever. M on now at Palace Norton Street, Dendy Newtown and elsewhere. ★1/2

Also opening this week: The Shape of Water

Those with kids of a certain age may have recently seen Sally Hawkins as Mrs Brown, the kindly mum who adopts a Marmalade-loving bear from Peru. As Elisa In Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water she has (errr…) feelings of a different sort for another wild creature, this time a strange man-like amphibian (Doug Jones) who lives in a tank of water in a top-secret lab in Baltimore sometime during the Cold War. Before she gets to consummate that relationship, we’ve already seen she’s a rather odd woman – a lonely cleaner with only a couple of friends (Octavia Spencer and Richard Jenkins) and a sadistic boss (Michael Shannon – playing a cartoonish villain complete with a cattle prod). She spends her evenings alone regularly masturbating in the bath. Oh, and she’s also mute… And those tub scenes are not there for mere titillation, nothing so crass in this “adult fairy tale”, surely! Though there is plenty of nudity for those who like that sort of thing, and we do get a full frontal of fish-man late in the movie (though disappointingly, like mermaids he has no visible reproductive equipment). It’s a film likely to divide audiences as it has critics, with at least one reviewer labelling this instant arthouse hit “agonisingly banal juvenilia.” Which may be a bit harsh. It is very stylish and beguilingly strange, though certainly not quite as inspired as those full page press ads make out. MA15+ on now at Palace Norton Street, Dendy Newtown and elsewhere. ★★★1/2

Reviews – Russell Edwards