WHAT IF IT WORKS?

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Romi Trower

Stars: Luke Ford, Anna Samson, Wade Briggs, Brooke Satchwell, Kaarin Fairfax, Djon Alexander, John Flaus, Eliza D’Souza.

Australian filmmakers have a rich history of exploring mental illness, from 1979’s Tim, which starred a young Mel Gibson as a slightly retarded gardener who falls in love in with an older woman, through to Nadia Tass’s Malcolm and even P J Hogan’s Mental. And now we get this modest little romantic comedy about two people suffering from mental disorders who find love. But can romance work between two people with disorders that make them hard to live with? That is the gist of this quirky locally produced romantic comedy.

Adrian (played by Luke Ford, from Animal Kingdom, etc) is a tech nerd who suffers from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. He doesn’t like to be touched, doesn’t like dogs and he wears gloves all the time. He has his little routines and a shopping list of odd compulsions. Adrian is a bit of a loner. He wears his heart on his sleeve, but he finds it hard to communicate or interact socially. Which is what lead to his breakup with his former girlfriend Melinda (Brooke Satchwell).

He moves into his uncle’s garage in a backstreet of Melbourne’s northern suburbs, which is where he meets Grace (Anna Samson, from the tv remake of Wake In Fright, etc), a spunky and troubled street artist who works as part of a local arts collective. Grace however suffers from Multiple Personality Disorder. She has ten different personalities that manifest themselves, including the sexually provocative “G”. Grace is in a tempestuous relationship with fellow artist Sledgehammer (Wade Briggs, who has done lots of tv work with series like Home And Away and Please Like Me, etc). He is controlling and verbally abusive, and he brings a darker tone to the otherwise light weight film.

Adrian and Grace share the same psychiatrist in Dr Di Scala (stage and tv actress Kaarin Fairfax in a rare film role), and a tentative friendship develops between the pair. Adrian is a bit of a loner, but his friendship with Grace sees him begin to venture out into the world a bit more and take a few risks. But he still obsesses over his ex, and her presence may jeopardise their developing relationship.

What If It Works? is the debut feature film from writer/director Romi Trower, and is a very personal story. Her brother suffers from OCD, and Trower drew upon his experiences and struggles to shape the character of Adrian. This is a modest little drama with a lot of heart, but not every element of the drama works. There are a few missteps along the way, including some of the scenes in the art collective, and some stuff involving some drag queens. However, Trower deftly manages a delicate balance between pathos and genuine humour here, and it is obvious she has a great affection for her two central characters. And the film ends on an optimistic note.

The film relies heavily on the lead performances, and both Ford and Samson inhabit their complex and demanding roles. Trower wrote the role of Adrian specifically for Ford, who delivered an award-winning performance as a young man suffering from autism in the moving 2008 drama The Black Balloon. He delivers a wonderful performance here capturing Adrian’s many quirks and mannerisms, and he brings warmth to his portrayal of the damaged but always upbeat Adrian. Samson has a more physically challenging role as she has to convey Grace’s different personalities. She manages to give the few personalities we meet their own individual characteristics and personality.

What If It Works? has been shot on location around the streets and graffiti daubed laneways of Melbourne’s inner northern suburbs by veteran cinematographer Ian Jones, who is well known for his regular collaborations with Rolf de Heer. Local audiences will recognise some of the streetscapes and trams, which also adds a real sense of atmosphere to the film. Melbourne also has a vibrant music culture, and the soundtrack features the likes of City Calm Down and Dustin Tebbutt, which also strengthens the local flavour.
★★☆

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