Damian Callinan, Kate Mulvany, Rafferty Grierson, John Howard, Penny Cook
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The Merger has a massive heart, and it’s unequivocally in the right place.
Wagga Wagga is a cracking mid-size town in NSW best known for punching massively above its weight when it comes to producing top-tier sporting talent, from Michael Slater, Geoff Lawson, Paul Kelly and Wayne Carey through to Peter Sterling, Tony Roche and Steve Mortimer. And that’s just to name a few. Wagga Wagga now also has a genuine burgeoning auteur in the form of Mark Grentell, who follows up his charming 2013 debut, Backyard Ashes, with the equally charming The Merger. Both films were shot in the Riverina area by the Wagga Wagga-born Grentell, and enthusiastically push the region’s underrated bucolic allure, while also embracing its obvious love of sport.
Based on the one-man stage show by humourist and actor, Damian Callinan, The Merger tells a footy story at the grass roots level, as the Aussie Rules team from the tiny rural town of Bodgy Creek struggles to survive. While the team’s main man, Bull Barlow (John Howard in wonderfully blustering form), wants to stick with tradition, his daughter-in-law, Angie (gifted stage performer, Kate Mulvany, excels here), wants to change it up and make a move for the future. Her first step is to offer the job of coach to Troy Carrington (Damian Callinan boasts an easy, impossible-to-fake charm), a once great footy player now hated in Bodgy Creek because his environmentalist bent led to the closure of the town’s sustaining timber mill. Employing the town’s international refugee community to build a new clubhouse to take advantage of a government grant, Troy also ropes in this disparate group from around the world to swell the ranks of his dwindling team.
The Merger has a massive heart, and it’s unequivocally in the right place. It also more than makes up for some minor pacing issues and a couple of twee moments. Happily walking the same Aussie-as-Aussie-can-be territory as The Castle, The Merger is busting with great gags and loveable characters, and its messages about tolerance and the value of mateship are timely and well placed. The core relationships are also cannily played and written, with the romance between Troy and Angie a highlight, and an eye-catching support cast, with the likes of Fayssal Bazzi, Josh McConville, Nick Cody, Ben Knight, and Penny Cook all on top form. There’s even a scene-stealing kid, with Rafferty Grierson an absolute delight as Angie’s precocious son, Neil. A warm and engaging sports comedy, The Merger is a winner.