Friday, 5 December 2008
Australia is perhaps the most heavily promoted of movies in this country and any resident who is unaware of it can only have an abode six feet under. For their benefit, Nicole Kidman is the English aristocrat, Lady Sarah Ashley, who travels to Australia to confront her no good husband at his cattle station only to find he has inconveniently died. Instead she meets Hugh Jackman, the Drover, and then....well, you can guess.
I went to this film with Hn and Ae (with whom I holidayed in the Kimberley and Darwin only a few months ago) and with Je (who had visited the same region earlier). We all were interested to see the locations we had enjoyed on our holidays captured in the film. Ae had shared a convivial drink and more with neighbours earlier in the day and I was annoyed that she turned up so drunk that for a moment I had wondered if she had suffered a stroke. She tried unsuccessfuly to mask her state with makeup that reminded me of Bette Davis in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane.
We found our seats, in Ae's case robotically a la Herman Munster, and then endured thirty minutes of pre film advertisements mostly incorporating excerpts from the film to the extent that it seemed as though we had seen the entire film by the time the familiar 20th Century Fox fanfare trumpeted.
Finally, the film was underway and the first twenty minutes was an embarrassing representation of Darwin as it might have been portrayed by the Beverley Hillbillies. Kidman was all swagger and shriek during these scenes. At that point I reappraised my opinion of Ae. She had found the perfect state in which to view the film. My heart sank at the thought of nearly three hours more of this embarrassment.
As I was thinking the worst, Ae leant over, placed a sweaty hand on my arm and in a Vera Charles like 'stage whisper' heard by the entire audience conveyed her opinion, "this is dreadful". Her comment was so powerful that the film almost immediately settled down, dropped its - until then - cartoonish qualities and began to improve. Even Kidman toned down her 'performance' from this point.
The film's improvement now seemed to infect Ae whose stage whispers became fewer and less audible with each passing scene until she no longer resembled Vera Charles and started paying respectful attention to what was happening on the screen.
The horrendous first twenty minutes aside, the remainder of the film was not without its interesting moments. I tended to focus on the background scenery rather than the foreground action but elements of the storyline grabbed my attention as the film progressed. I have to admit that overall I enjoyed the film but it is not the masterpiece we might have hoped.
The young Aboriginal boy, Brandon Walters, steals the film and of the rest I thought that Bryan Brown did the least damage to his reputation in a comparatively small but important role. Jackman is presented as eye candy in figure hugging clothing and shirtless moments. Kidman's performance waxes and wanes rather like her lips appear to do from scene to scene.
I don't know what overseas audiences will make of this film and its strong Australian and Aboriginal references. One thing that Australia does not possess is moderation. Baz Lurhmann displays an unerring eye for cliche and not a single one is missing from the film.