Monday, September 6, 2010

A new movie musical -- Rachel Perkins' BRAN NUE DAE -- opens from Australia

Is there anything quite as uplifting as a great new musical?  Good songs, fab dancing, some funny comedy, a nice love story and nifty performances.  How wonderful it would be if BRAN NUE DAE, the new Australian road movie/coming-of-age comedy/socially relevant musical were something approaching that -- rather than the utter embarrass-ment it turns out to be.  If you have ever undergone the experience of watching a movie that just refuses to jell, to work, to score (forget hitting the bull's eye, even the target, just something within a mile radius), you'll know what I mean. If you're anything like TrustMovies, you'll want to give this thing the benefit of the doubt, hoping against hope that it will right itself eventually.  So you keep on keeping on.  But when things don't get any better -- in fact, grow worse --  you turn a little nasty.

This is unfair, perhaps, particularly to the director/co-writer (Rachel Perkins, pictured at right) and the other two co-writers (Reg Cribb and Jimmy Chi) and to their cast of very hard-working semi-professionals who sort of sing, sort of dance and sort of act, while giving life to one of the most clichéd jumbles of characters and events imaginable. In terms of right and wrong, social justice for Aborigines and a rallying cry against hypocrisy, the movie's heart is in the right place. But oh, my god, its brain!  Every character seems one-note, each event appears cut from the same garish cloth, and so far as music, lyrics and choreography go, the movie rises almost to the level of a pretty fair high-school performance. Perhaps all of the above is meant to be part of the film's innocent charm, but a little of this goes an awfully long way.

The plot, such as it is, has to do with a young Aborigine (Rocky McKenzie, above, left) who has a crush on a girl but does not have the courage to do much about it.  After he's shipped off to religious school (run by Geoffrey Rush, below, the major "pro" in the cast whom I hope will never attempt another musical: He can't sing, he can't dance, but, wow, can he mug!), the boy breaks away from "religion" and determines to go back home.

The rest of the film is road trip, in which our hero meets a bunch of crazy nut cases who grate after a minute or two but stay on to wear out their non-welcome. By the finale (I think there's not really any spoiler here), so many coincidences and "reunions" have occurred that Shakespeare himself would have blushed and pronounced whatever the olde English was for "Too much already!"

The original music is from co-writer Chi and, like most else here, is so-so -- with the exception of the song "Nothing I Would Rather Be," which is repetitive but fun, while making a worthwhile point. This is probably why the need was felt to toss in some non-original work, such as Stand By Your Man, here given a less than stellar interpretation vocally and choreographically.

The rudimentary plotting, cheap characterization and generally sloppy overseeing renders Bran Nue Dae a misfire on almost every level. Yet unaccountably (so far as I'm concerned), it is said to have been a hit at Sundance, and one of my compatriots, The NYC Movie Guru is also on record as having enjoyed it immensely.  Your move, as they say.  Meanwhile, I'll hold out for the movie version of Wicked.

Bran Nue Dae, said to be the number one Australian movie of the year (another unaccountability!), from Freestyle Releasing, opens nationwide this Friday, September 10.  In New York City it plays at Regal's E-Walk and 64th @ 2nd theaters, at the Clearview Chelsesa and at City Cinema's Village East.  You can find many of the other playdates, cities and theaters across the country here.

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