Saturday, January 09, 2016

Saturday Morning Musings - reviewing Looking for Grace: interesting but flawed

Running over January and February, the St George Open Air Cinema has become something of a Sydney institution. The reasons aren't hard to find.

The Cinema's location in the Domain overlooking the city is a beautiful venue. Gates open at 6.30, but the film cannot be shown until dark, so people eat and drink in the meantime, taking advantage of the view to turn it into a real night out.

Construction of the Cinema is a major undertaking in its own right. The huge screen is mounted on pylons in the harbour along with all the mechanicals required to raise it as darkness sets. The tiered open air auditorium seating 2,000 has to be built, as do all the food and bar areas. Then, at the end of the season, it all has to be dismantled and the site returned to its original condition. The whole process is large scale and expensive. You can see why ticket prices have to be high!

I hadn't been to the Cinema in some time, but last night a ticket became available. By chance, it turned out to be the opening night of the 2016 season and also the Sydney premiere of the new Australian film Looking for Grace. I had noticed the cordoned area with its red carpet at the waterside, but hadn't thought about it until there was a rush of people to take photographs. Needless to say, I joined the throng.

 Looking for Grace takes the form of a series of interconnected stories.

The starting story, Grace’s story, introduces Grace (Odessa Young)  and her friend (Kenya Pearson) who have, it appears, run away from home to go to a rock concert. However, there is more to it than that.

In her introduction to the film just before screening, Director Sue Brooks told the audience that we should work through this scene. I can see why she did this and will explain why later.  However, it was an error. She would have been far better off briefly explaining the structure of the film, helping us to understand.

The film then switches to the respective stories of Grace's parents,  Denise (Rahda Mitchell) and Dan (Richard Roxburgh). The next shot shows them both at the premiere.See what I mean by the beauty of the location?

Both Mitchell and Roxburgh are considerable talents with substantial cinema records. Mitchell is also very sexy (am I allowed to say that today?), more so than you would think from her portrayal in this role where the setting required her to focus on the domestic.

I think that Mtchell's performance was better than Roxburgh's. This is not a criticism of his acting ability, rather that Sue Brooks as both writer and director miscalculated and especially in the potential adultery scene where Roxburgh's portrayal did not quite ring true. Indeed, there were several places in the movie where the detail in the plot lines just didn't come off. A director has to be very focused and disciplined. That's hard where the director is also the writer. How do you as director say to you as writer this isn't quite working? Or vice verca?

There were two more sub stories, one involving Terry Norris as the private detective, a second and short one involving Bruce (Myles Pollard), a truck driver. The second was necessary for the plot, but I'm not sure about the first. Before giving a summing up, here is another cast photo.

Writing in Variety, Guy Lodge was critical of aspects of the film while also recognising some of the strengths. He focused on the ennui of down-under life.There are elements here that I need to think about before responding properly, elements best summarised (and this is a very Australian comment) by the distant sounds of a crow's caw on a quiet morning with its remoteness and loneliness. There are also elements that I just thought were too stretched, that brought me out of that suspension of disbelief necessary for full enjoyment. This wasn't helped by the fact that the narrow gaps between the rows were making my legs and especially my knees hurt.

Given this, should you see the film if you get a choices? Yes, you should. I think that it might become a minor Australian classic as much for its weaknesses as its strengths.  It's an interesting film. .  

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