2007 may be a slow year for Australian cinema, but it’s also a strong one. Clubland appears on our screens after the almost perfect Noise and solid yet pedestrian Romulus, My Father, and outdoes both in its great mix of drama and bawdy humour.
The film that did so well at Sundance has great audience potential insofar as the young romance might attract teen and upwards viewers whilst Brenda Blethyn is likely to rope in older, more discerning viewers. Jean (Blethyn) is a has-been stand up comedian. Where once her career was on the rise in her native England, the arrival of two sons effectively put an end to that. She now works long hours in a canteen and does gigs in pokie venues at night. Khan Chittenden plays her long-suffering son Tim who does his best to taxi her round and effectively assume responsibilities left by his absent father. When he meets the beautiful Jill (Emma Booth), his priorities are suddenly rearranged, much to the chagrin of Jean.
Blethyn is stunning as the over the top matriarch who doesn’t know when to stop. Jean’s comedy routines are a mix of embarrassing ‘Carry On’ innuendoes and some genuinely clever humour. Whilst Blethyn has seemed to take over our screens in the last decade or so, she’s at her most impressive here. A thoroughly unabashed performance, she really does push the rest of the cast. Chittenden is great as the somewhat inexperienced and shy Tim, and the frank, fumbling sex scenes between him and Jill are brilliantly awkward. Emma Booth – soon to be a regular face in Hollywood, I’m sure – is fantastic. Her performance is so impressive that the thought of her doing generic big budget films in the States is rather depressing. Hopefully she can sidestep the incoming tide of offers and stick to the really challenging stuff.
Veteran Australian television writer Keith Thompson has crafted a beautiful screenplay that never gets too schmalzy or clichéd. He seems perfectly at home whether writing for characters in their early 20s or parents pushing 60. There are only minor gaps to be found – it’s hard to see quite why Jill puts up with the contradictory Tim and his terrifying mother, and whilst never quite disrespectful, too many jokes are at the expense of the intellectually disabled brother Mark.
Clubland’s title has been changed to Introducing the Dwights for the US release, but neither is really worthy of the film. Directed superbly by Cherie Nowlan, who years ago introduced us to Cate Blanchett in Thank God He Met Lizzie, this is a strong yet simple film that can boast some brilliant performances from veterans like Frankie J. Holden, Phillip Quast and Blethyn as well as newcomers Chittenden and Booth.Rating: