Standing Up for Sunny
RJ Mitte, Philippa Northeast, Italia Hunt, Sam Reid, Megan Smart
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…amiable, and the low budget gives it a sense of immediacy and authenticity.
Films starring characters who have a disability can sometimes be maudlin or looking to play for the sympathy vote, despite themselves. Standing Up for Sunny at least refuses that tendency and manages to stay, somewhat relentlessly, upbeat. It is directed by ubiquitous TV actor Steve Vidler, and it is very much a local Sydney film in feel and location. Vidler hasn’t directed a feature since the rather effective Black Rock (1997). One wonders what has kept him from stepping behind the camera in between. This one he wrote as well as directed, so it is clearly something of a passion project.
The film centres on Travis (RJ Mitte, best known perhaps for Breaking Bad). Travis (like Mitte in real life) has cerebral palsy. He is supposed to have an anger problem but really – apart from the odd outburst – he seems remarkably even tempered. He can’t earn much money though, so when a pushy but charming blind Samoan called Gordo (a scene stealing turn from NZ actor Italia Hunt) offers to share the rent, Travis has to accept.
Travis is attracted to Sunny (Philippa Northeast). She is trying to break into the local stand-up comedy scene as a route to becoming a radio host/personality. Sunny has a poisonous boyfriend called Mikey (a thankless role for Sam Reid). She is also bulimic, partly because she had a traumatic childhood, and so she can empathise with Travis’s sense of being broken or rejected by society. When Travis becomes her sort of comedy coach, the arrogant Mikey resents their friendship and does his best to get Travis out of the picture.
The film is certainly amiable, and the low budget gives it a sense of immediacy and authenticity. The Inner West Sydney locations are clearly close to the director’s heart and he uses them effectively. There are some obvious problems though. When films feature people doing stand-up, the actual routines (and the audience’s wetting themselves) rarely convince. The other problem is the one that haunts many a rom-com. The arc of the narrative is so plainly in view from the very beginning that no amount of obligatory obstacles-to-love can persuade us from mentally jumping to the end.