Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Movie Review – Little Fish

Damn you, Margaret Pomeranz and David Stratton – I am absolutely certain that you add at least one and a half stars to any movie that is Australian and hence have, again, made me fork out $14.00 only to be frustrated, puzzled and disappointed. Again.

That’s it, I’ve had enough. It’s time to do the unthinkable amongst most Australian-based movie critics – or those who get paid for it, anyway – and be honestly critical of this movie. However let’s start with what was good about it first.

The actors. The movie is jam-packed with a truckload of talent that all of us Aussies should be proud of:

  • Cate Blanchett plays Tracey, a recovering heroin addict who is trying to set up her own business but whose dodgy past means that banks reject her loan applications;
  • Noni Hazlehurt plays her exhausted and concerned mother;
  • Hugo Weaving is Lionel, her ex-stepfather, ex-footballer and now openly gay and a drug addict;
  • Sam Neill is Lionel's former lover and drug dealer who is now seeking to remove all negatives from his life; and
  • Dustin Nguyen, who is Tracey’s ex-boyfriend Johnny, returned to the Cabramatta area of Sydney after 4 years in Canada and seeking to restart their relationship.

There is no doubt that all of the above actors play their parts brilliantly (as does the chappie in the role of Tracy’s brother who I gather was in a car accident with Johnny and nearly died, but did lose his leg and, it seems, most of his intelligence and manners). Cate personifies the thin, panda-eyed, not-daring-to-hope recovering addict in a way that is delicately painful to watch. Hugo is Lionel: a pathetic shell of a man who can no longer be anything to anyone and honestly made me forget his pointy ears in LOTR and his 'Mr Anderson' ear piece in the Matrix. Noni flung aside her ‘Better Homes and Gardens’ and cheery ‘Play School’ personas to inhabit the permanently tired, worried, bitter and concerned role of the mother feeling powerless over what decisions her children make.

All of the glowing reviews about the movie in its entirety however seem to include the words ‘gritty realism’, ‘thought provoking’ and ‘bleak’ in them. I say: that’s utter crap that poonces like to use to sound intellectual, deep and to vainly try to convince us of their ability to see the subtext. My friend Catherine the Elegant and I had a couple of classics sitting right behind us in the theatre who also wheeled out old toe-jam stinkers including ‘hard-hitting’, ‘raw and honest performances’ and – my favourite – ‘it requires the audience to work with it.’ Okey dokey, and I’d like to work my left-over choctop right up your pompous little arses…….

Why don’t we just all be honest and admit that it was a confusing story line that resulted in a lack of empathy for any of the characters, no matter how sordid their situation. In an early scene with her ex-stepfather Lionel, Cate’s character Tracey, is lying back on his sofa bed with her legs spread, laughing flirtingly at his singing antics – it looked as though she was his lecherous girlfriend, not his ex-step daughter!

The Johnny character –although interesting to look at (I’ll be keeping an eye out for you in future, Mr. Nguyen, but I hope you don’t really wear underwear like what we were ‘treated’ to in the final beach scene, let alone that world series wrestling belt tattoo on your lower back…..) was the least believable. He sells drugs, has a girlfriend addicted to drugs and crashes a car severely injuring her brother. His family (apparently) exile him to Canada where he’s been for the past four years doing what? Selling drugs? Studying economics, hunting moose - what? Oh, I see, I’m meant to be ‘working’ it all out, as is required from a truly perceptive and art-house audience member. Well, the movie just didn’t make me feel as though I wanted to work it out, other that to remark to C-the-E that these sort of gritty movies seem to feature endless lingering shots of people lighting up and smoking their ciggies.

Perhaps the most annoying thing was the scene where, at Lionel’s insistence, Tracy goes to the train station to buy him drugs. There she is tempted to find a toilet and use them herself. At least I think so – I was still trying to work that bit out. Inside some hall or other (right next to the train station famous for its drug scene) is a hall full of uniformed school kiddies, singing a rather senseless version of ‘Flame Trees’, a dud song previously hammered by Jimmy Barnes in the mid-eighties and on constant FM rotation ever since.

This moves our Cate – sorry Tracey – to tears and she trudges her way back to Lionel so that he can take the drugs. (World weary sigh): the song was utter crap back in 1985 and makes even less sense now. If you don’t believe me, I’ve attached the lyrics to it below. Personally I would have gone for Mental as Anything's 1985 hit, 'Live it up'- it has about the same level of relevance.

Sadly, 'Flame Trees' even rears its head in the final scene where we are supposed to work our brains again to decide if any of the characters are going to redeem themselves, sort out their personal messes, get a nice inheritance via Lionel or leave him on the sand covered in seaweed.

2 stars. Both for the acting.

Flame Trees - sung by Jimmy Barnes

Kids out driving Saturday afternoon pass me by

I'm just savouring familiar sights

We share some history, this town and I

And I can't stop that long forgotten feeling of her

Try to book a room to stay tonight

Number one is to find some friends to say "You're doing well

After all this time you boys look just the same"

Number two is the happy hour at one of two hotels

Settle in to play "Do you remember so and so?"

Number three is never say her name

Oh the flame trees will blind the weary driver

And there's nothing else could set fire to this town

There's no change, there's no pace

Everything within its place

Just makes it harder to believe that she won't be around

But Ah! Who needs that sentimental bullshit, anyway

Takes more than just a memory to make me cry

I'm happy just to sit here round a table with old friends

And see which one of us can tell the biggest lies

There's a girl falling in love near where the pianola stands

With her young local factory out-of-worker, holding hands

And I'm wondering if he'll go or if he'll stay

Do you remember, nothing stopped us on the field In our day

Oh the flame trees will blind the weary driver......


Julia said...

Juls here (Kath's sister): am in total agreeance with you. It was blegh. Great acting all round, but what cliched bollocks. If it was from the US we'd be calling it as it is, but because it's Australian it's "gritty" and "raw" as you say. The scene with the kids singing was nauseating. Gee, let's roll the Cliche Barrel and see what we can pull out this time! Ah yes, ex-heroin addict decides she'll pick up some drugs for a friend "one last time" and let's throw in some pure rosy-cheeked innocence to juxtapose it nicely. And the final scene, with that song again, at the beach. "I promise I'd take you to the beach". Finished the popcorn so I can pass the bucket?

Keep trying, Aussie film industry, keep trying...

Anonymous said...

The stage singing scene is too nauseating but I still agree with Margaret Pomeranz and David Stratton that it is a good movie.