Shane Jacobson, Magda Szubanski, Julia Zemiro, Manu Feildel
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…the latest in Australia’s long line of generally affable homegrown comedies…
After a load of off prawns ruins his weekly backyard barbecue and video of the resultant gastro epidemic goes viral, disgraced suburban grillmaster Dazza (Shane Jacobson) must reclaim his mantle by winning an international barbecue competition. He learns at the knee of meat expert The Butcher (Magda Szubanski + Scottish accent), but can his native skills plus his newly learned edge help him beat out the international competition, chief among them arrogant French chef Andre Mont Blanc (TV chef Manu Feildel)?
Well, it’d be a novel twist on the old Aussie underdog movie if he couldn’t, and such a turn of events is not among The BBQ‘s few surprises. But what the film, from director Stephen Amis (The 25th Reich) and five credited writers (!), lacks in originality it makes up for in warmth and gentle humour – if you set your expectations to “knowing smile” rather than “call an ambulance, I’m dying here”, you’ll be fine.
The BBQ is the latest in Australia’s long line of generally affable homegrown comedies, all descended from that perennial modern classic, The Castle and focused on a knockabout average joe hero’s struggles to hold onto his own modest piece of the Australian dream – for the Kerrigans it was their titular home, for Dazza Cook it’s his position as top BBQ cook in his comfortable cul-de-sac, a position from which he delights in feeding his multicultural blend of neighbours.
The film goes to great and fairly enjoyable lengths to mythologise the humble barbecue’s place of prominence in Aussie culture – Dazza believes himself to be descended from English explorer Captain James Cook, and his own backyard burner to be the first barbecue built in Australia. Indeed, there’s a whole subplot involving his kids (Frederik Simpson and Lara Robinson) trying to prove the veracity of these claims. For Dazza, however, the family legend is core to his identity – his backyard deck is a replica of The Endeavour, for crying out loud.
Which is part of The BBQ‘s main problem – it’s not celebrating the everyman, even though it really thinks it is. With his own suburban home and a dependable job that enriches him enough to throw a neighbourhood party every week, Jacobson’s Dazza is not a relatable archetype for a generation or two of Australians – his “humble” lifestyle is, in fact, aspirational. Hell, even The Castle’s Kerrigans got excited about meatballs and thumbing through the Trading Post for bargains – those guys were working class, while the Cooks are members of a shrinking middle class whose remarkably struggle-free lifestyle looks pretty comfortable from where a modern audience is standing. In 2018 the film’s everyman isn’t even most men – he’s enviable. (interestingly Working Dog’s last film, 2012’s Any Questions For Ben?, is a similarly wrongheaded attempt to frame an affluent protagonist as an everyman).
Still, let’s not get lost in the weeds of class criticism. As an amiable slice of comedic Australiana, The BBQ fulfills its remit, but never takes a step beyond those relatively modest aims. To employ an obvious metaphor, it’s a Coles sausage in a slice of white bread, not a platter of Texas brisket with fixings. Still, sometimes that’s enough.