Wayne Gardner, Donna-Lee Kahlbetzer, Eddie Lawson
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…a pretty straightforward, rather hagiographic biography that’ll please fans but won’t do much for newcomers.
30 years after he won the Grand Prix Motorcycle World Championship in 1987 and became a household name comes this feature length look at the life and times of Wayne Gardner, motorcyclist and, well, motorcyclist.
Seriously, by the light of director Jeremy Sims’ Wayne, there isn’t too much more to Gardner. By the man’s own account (he is interviewed extensively throughout the film), he was a hyper-competitive kid in working class Wollongong who went on to become a hyper-competitive bike racer and then a hyper-competitive world champion. End of story. Setbacks are downplayed, and unsuccessful side missions – such as Gardner’s abortive car racing career – don’t rate much of a mention, if any. Gardner wins because he is a winner.
While that may be engaging for those who have an interest in the sport of motorcycle racing, it’s thin gruel for those who want something a bit more complex. Unfortunately, Gardner proves to be not much for self-examination, and the other interview subjects, including racing rival Eddie Lawson and Gardner’s longtime girlfriend and now-ex-wife, Donna-Lee Kahlbetzer, don’t offer any additional insight. Any personal failings of Gardner’s you might perceive, which could include a rather ruthless attitude to winning and a sometimes brutally pragmatic approach to team loyalty, are handwaved because he just keeps winning – he wins because he’s good, ergo he’s good because he wins. Nothing else matters. Which is not to say Gardner is a villain, but there are times here where he’s framed as a kind of larrikin saint in a flame-retardant suit.
If Wayne fails to dig into its subject’s character, psyche and motivations to any real degree, it does succeed at putting him in his historical context, tying him firmly to the 1988 “Celebration of a Nation” Australian Bicentennial, when it seemed (at the time at least) that the country was coming of age, and all things Aussie – or at least straight, white, culturally mainstream Aussie – were being funded, forefronted, and draped in as much green and gold bunting as could be found. It’s interesting to speculate if Gardner’s world championship would have had such a cultural impact if it had come at any other time.
But Wayne doesn’t speculate – it races through the key points of Gardner’s life like it was trying to beat the clock, coming in at a tight 98 minutes in the end, and having spent them in the most economical way possible. The occasional bit of formal flair aside – the decision to use Japanese-style animation to narrativise certain events is an interesting one – this is a pretty straightforward, rather hagiographic biography that’ll please fans but won’t do much for newcomers.