Dir. Rachel Perkins. Run Time. 85 mins. PG
It’s Australia in the late sixties and Willie (Rocky McKenzie), a young Aboriginal boy, runs away from Catholic boarding school to embark upon a musical adventure back to his hometown, Broome. Along the way he sings songs, makes new friends (including a wily hobo, a German backpacker attempting to latch onto the free spirit of the Woodstock-generation, and a tragically horny shopkeeper), and has a series of episodic (mis)adventures. The plot doesn’t really get much deeper than that. There is a love story thrown in there somewhere and it verges on social commentary at times, but this feel-good musical romp doesn’t even try to get close to well thought out narrative structure.
That, however, is not its mission. It doesn’t want to be just another in the long catalogue of dark and difficult aboriginal dramas. It just wants to be an hour and a half of Australian reminiscence for the good old technicolour days, and this it does very well. The aesthetics throughout the film are wonderful, saturated as they are with the gaudy colours of an un-hip 1969 rural Western Australia, and all of the actors (notable Ernie Dingo’s ‘Uncle Tadpole’) perform their roles with such a well-meaning sense of fun and good-nature that it’s hard to give this film too bad a rap.
Judging this film solely on its elements of fun, however, also has its problems. There aren’t enough songs and when they do appear they aren’t particularly catchy and their accompanying dance routines lack energy and verve. Unfortunately the star-studded cast, full of well-known Australian singing talents (Dan Sultan, Missy Higgins, Jessica Mauboy) don’t lift the scant numbers of this one out of their bland doldrums. For a musical, I’ve got to say that it doesn’t impress very much musically.
It’s moments of comedy, however, do really get the belly-laughs out. Geoffrey Rush’s maniacal German priest, Higgins’ spaced-out hippy, and Dingo’s walking stereotype are all hilarious in their ineptitude and occasional pearls of homespun wisdom, and guest appearances by Madga Szubanski and Deborah Mailman are more than enough to cement Bran Nue Dae into the cannon of great comedies that won’t translate outside of Australia.
This being said, these moments spectacular hilarity sadly still aren’t enough to drown out all the of the gaping flaws in this film. The love story sub-plot makes no sense, the character development is minimal if it’s there at all, and motivation for any of the action is sorely lacking, and it for these reasons that I can’t really recommend it as any kind of triumph of Australian musical cinema. It has its moments of fun and the kids will love it, but I can’t see it being put up there with the likes of Muriel’s Wedding (1994) or The Castle (1997) any time soon.
- The Sapphires (reelfix.wordpress.com)
- Charlie Perkins – leader of the people (theindigenousidentityproject.wordpress.com)
- In the Wake of The Turning (droverbooks.wordpress.com)
- Origins 2013; not your average history lesson (australiantimes.co.uk)