Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Marion Pilowsky
Stars: Eddie Izzard, Emily Taheny, Luke McKenzie, Vanessa Guide, Tina Bursill, Hugh Sheridan, Tiriel Mora, Susie Youssef.
Lumbered with a terrible title, this low budget locally produced bittersweet romantic comedy is inert, laboured and painfully unfunny.
Five years ago, narcissistic British actor Henry Selbert (Eddie Izzard) came to Adelaide to shoot a film, and he had an affair with the production’s chef Ronnie (comedian Emily Taheny, who was recently seen in That’s Not My Dog). When the movie finished shooting, the affair ended as Henry returned to England.
Now Ronnie runs her own restaurant, but she is heavily in debt and struggling to keep up with the bills. There also seems to be a lack of clientele willing to check out her specialty of crayfish steaks. Her mother Iris (veteran actress Tina Bursill) is in the early stages of dementia and is living in a nursing home. But Ronnie has fallen behind with her maintenance payments and has to sneak into her room whenever she visits to avoid facing Nigel (Hugh Sheridan), the nursing home’s financial director.
Ronnie is in a relationship with Jeff (Luke McKenzie, from Wentworth, etc), a part time teacher and aspiring writer. Then Henry arrives in Adelaide on a promotional tour for his latest movie and gets in touch with Ronnie to catch up. He is accompanied by his sophisticated agent/girlfriend, the seductive and sultry Sophie (Vanessa Guide, from The New Adventures Of Aladdin, etc). Unaware of the previous relationship between Henry and Ronnie, Jeff invites the pair to stay with them rather than a pricy hotel. And before too long the four head off on a road trip to visit the South Australian wineries and outback. Henry expresses interest in turning Jeff’s existential novel about a spider which falls in love into a movie, but he is only paying lip service to Jeff’s ambitions.
You should have been able to cut the tension here with a knife, but unfortunately the script fails to capitalise on the comedic or dramatic possibilities of the scenario. The film explores universal themes of female empowerment, relationships, aging, the clash of personalities, culture and tradition, family second chances, ambition, and what matters most in life.
The Flip Side marks the debut feature for producer turned writer/director Marion Pilowsky, who has worked in short films, and it shows in the uneven pacing and pedestrian handling of the material. There is precious little to laugh about in the thin and patchy script; there are few laugh out loud moments or witty one-liners, and most of the attempts at humour fall flat and just lie there waiting for someone to sweep them away. And there are several subplots that lead nowhere.
Pilowsky tries to stretch her limited budget and resources, but the limitations are obvious in the settings and the small cast. Visually the film is bland for much of the duration, with some unimaginative cinematography from Steve Arnold (Last Cab To Darwin, the documentary Wayne, etc). Although to give him his due he gives us some attractive shots of Adelaide during the opening credit sequence and some gorgeous location work when the quartet hit the road. Pilowsky has worked in London for many years and wanted to make this movie something of a love letter to her home town. The film grew out her sense of dislocation upon returning home after spending years abroad.
The cast struggle with their underdeveloped, unlikeable and flawed characters. And for a romantic comedy there is a serious lack of chemistry between the two leads. Izzard in particular is woefully miscast here as the obnoxious, shallow and arrogant Henry, and he seems uncomfortable and unconvincing. Taheny brings a sense of frustration and exasperation to her role and she effectively conveys Ronnie’s growing sense of stress as the situation threatens to go out of control. Only McKenzie (who has worked with Pilowsky on a couple of her short films, comes out of this with his reputation intact, delivering a likeable performance as the easy going, optimistic but generally oblivious Jeff. He is the only decent, honest character in the film, as the others are all dealing with their own personal and emotional baggage. Tiriel Mora (from the classic Australian comedy The Castle, etc) has a small role as a crazy, foul mouthed small-town mechanic.
An awful title for a clunky film – the working title of The Call Back seems much more meaningful and ironic. This is another dismal local film that will fail to appeal to a broad audience and represents another wasted opportunity. I’m not sure who the intended audience for this disappointing romcom is.