0 Comment(s) 04/25/2016 Films | Reviews

One of the main strengths of debutant Simon Stone’s The Daughter is its heavily atmospheric sense of place. Swapping Henrik Ibsen’s 19th century Oslo setting from The Wild Duck (on which this is loosely based) to a rural logging town in contemporary Australia, underpins the timeless nature of these events that could easily be transposed anywhere, anytime.

A deceptively gentle opening conceals the drama’s operatic destination. A hunter (Rush) in his 60s fires a rifle and clips the wings of a duck. Another man of a similar age, Walter (Neill), takes that duck and nurses it back to health. What then follows is a story that details the ways in which the families of these two patriarchs are inextricably linked.

‘The Hunter’ is Henry, a man of some stature, whose family has been employing the small community for a century at their logging factory – although we witness this era come to an end as the plant is forced to close.

Walter, on the other hand, has done time for embezzling company funds. His son, Oliver (Leslie), works at the hunter’s plant. Both Walter and his son live together with his son’s wife (Otto) and their teenage daughter, Hedvig (Young).

The narrative wheels are set in motion when the hunter’s son, Christian (Schneider), returns home from the US, after many years, for the occasion of his father’s imminent marriage to a much younger woman. For Christian, whose mother killed herself and whose own wife is now leaving him, this marriage conjures conflicted feelings.

When he’s reunited with Oliver, his close childhood friend, he’s welcomed into that man’s family with open arms. However, confronted by the warmth and love in Walter and Oliver’s family, which so sharply contrasts with his own, Christian’s jealousy unleashes a long-guarded secret which promptly starts to unravel both families with tragic consequences.

Asides from the country of origin and the casting of Geoffrey Rush, there is a tonal resemblance to 2001’s Lantana. The photography is similarly stylised: quietly assured without ever being showy. There is no homicide, however, as this is a drama of a more ordinary nature, albeit heightened.

The universality of themes related to familial dysfunction, and the betrayal of trust, work both for and against The Daughter.

Although immediately engaging, the pitfalls of employing well-worn themes, without (presumably) an author’s grounding in personal, first-hand experience is that they form a breeding ground for tired tropes and generic dialogue.

This is true here during several scenes of familial conflict in which lines such as “You never understood me” or “Please, it’s not what you think!” are used with such frequency that Stone’s melodrama veers perilously close to soap opera. Fortunately for Stone, for the most part, his well-chosen cast can conceal inadequate writing with knockout performances.

Scenes with less obvious agendas, for example between Hedvig and her father, are charming in their playfulness, while others, overly concerned with reaching a predetermined plot point, come at the cost of their believability. Portions of dialogue are rendered awkward and forced.

Nevertheless, the actors are usually up to the challenge of nailing the emotional truth of their predicament so that Stone’s intentions are made clear, even if his execution is sometimes muddled.


0 Comment(s) 04/12/2016 News | Reviews | Theatre

This year’s Melbourne International Comedy Festival brings a host of big names, the greats of comedy and television. George and Pam are going to host the BIGGEST name – Australia’s favourite actor of the stage and screen- Sir Geoffrey Rush. George & Pam: In Conversation with Sir Geoffrey Rush is a brand new, absurdist character comedy starring siblings Pam (Arts Administrator) and George (Administrator of the Arts.) As the middle-aged Camberwell-born and bred duo prepares to interview their – our – esteemed guest, they shine a laughable and lovable light on theatre, fandom and the arts in all its absurdity.

Like a gingernut complements a cup of tea; these idiosyncratic individuals complement each other. Their storytelling and transitions to reenactments through song and voice overs is seamless and hilarious. The thing that struck me the most was how natural and believable the characters are for people who are so batty and absurd. I guess it shows there’s these little twists in all of us, and shows us how talented and clever the brains and bodies behind this operation are. Written and performed by Australian comedians Anna O’Bryan (Al & Anna’s Music Rant) and Sam Rankin (Wake Up, Sheeple!) and directed by award-winning Rachel Davis (EDGE!, Best Comedy, Melbourne Fringe 2013; Weekly Award, Adelaide Fringe 2014), it shows us that two/three heads are better than one. (Unless the one head is Sir Geoffrey’s)

It was Monday night, I’ve got a cold from the late nights of comedy and early mornings of writing and I honestly felt like climbing in a cocoon of tissues and hot toddies. It took about 30 seconds to change my mind. There’s not many days left of this festival, if you feel like you have heard every joke about Tinder, Tony Abbot and topics of the year, then you are in for a real treat, as George and Pam: In Conversation with Sir Geoffrey Rush is refreshingly sharp and witty. There’s no forced laughs or fizzles, it’s delightfully different and it’s a “YES” from me.

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0 Comment(s) 04/06/2016 Films | Reviews

We can all agree that when it comes to comedy, Australian filmmakers get it wrong more often than right, bringing on more bouts of cultural cringe than chants at a cricket game. But when it comes to drama, it’s a different story.

Hot off the heels of a strong year for the local film industry with the likes of Mad Max: Fury Road and The Dressmaker, comes The Daughter, a moody and intense story with powerhouse performances from Ewen Leslie, Geoffrey Rush, Miranda Otto, Sam Neill and newcomer Odessa Young.

The Daughter is a family drama set against the backdrop of a small town whose fortunes revolve around the just-closed timber mill owned by Henry Neilson (Rush). Henry’s estranged son, Christian (American actor Paul Schneider, Parks and Recreation), has come home after more than a decade away to be the best man at his father’s wedding to a much-younger housekeeper (Anna Torv).

Christian’s return, as is often the case with a prodigal son, serves as a catalyst for long-buried family secrets to be unearthed.

The Daughter is an impressive debut feature from director Simon Stone. At 31 years old, Stone has been called the “wunderkind” of Australian theatre, having previously been the resident director for Belvoir. He’s also mounted several productions since 2007 that have won him acclaim and a Helpmann Award for Best Play.

So it’s wonderful to see Stone apply his talents to a different medium. The source material for The Daughter isn’t new to Stone — it’s based on Henrik Ibsen play The Wild Duck, which Stone previously adapted for the stage in 2011 but the film is a significant departure from the Norwegian playwright’s words.

Modernised, The Daughter has a beautiful naturalism that is surprising for a first time director, especially one with a theatre background. The film is also imbued with a sense of disciplined drama when it could’ve easily gone for melodrama. It recalls Ray Lawrence movies such as Lantana and Jindabyne in that respect.

But it’s the performances that give The Daughter gravitas. While the ensemble cast is wonderful, Leslie is particularly brilliant as Oliver, best mate to Christian and father of Hedvig, the titular daughter.

Leslie is able to take his character from a content everyman who’s come to terms with his squandered youth and opportunities to a broken shell with authenticity and empathy. Leslie is one of the most underrated Australian actors with the general public. He’s worked prolifically across film, television and theatre and has a knack for choosing interesting roles with nuance – if you haven’t seen him in Dead Europe, you should.

But it’s Young’s luminous face that will haunt you days after walking out of the cinema. The Daughter is Young’s second film but audiences may recognise her from TV stints on Wonderland and Tricky Business. The teenager’s turn in The Daughter will, justifiably, earn her plaudits — she is able to convey her character’s innocence and complexity with a single look. Young is a star to watch.

The Daughter is in Aussie cinemas now.