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The Flip Side

Australian, Review, Theatrical, This Week Leave a Comment

Years after they had a fling on a movie set, self-absorbed British movie star Henry (Eddie Izzard) drops back into the life of Adelaide chef and restaurateur Ronnie (Emily Taheny), possibly looking to rekindle their romance.

Times have changed, though. Ronnie has a new partner in gormless aspiring novelist (and relief science teacher by day) Jeff (Luke McKenzie), and a raft of problems: her business is failing, and she can’t afford to pay the dues on her dementia-addled mother’s (Tina Bursill) retirement home. Add to that the fact that Henry broke her heart when he decamped back to London, and she’s got no good reason to welcome him back.

But The Flip Side is a film about poor choices, and most of them happen at the script level, which is Ronnie and Henry find themselves on a road trip to the bush, with Jeff and Sophie (Vanessa Guide), Henry’s flirtatious, manipulative assistant/girlfriend, in tow. Comedy and relationship drama should ensue, but generally doesn’t.

The Flip Side is, to be blunt, a mess. It’s trying to be textured, nuanced, complex, and astute, presenting us with complicated characters (well, one complicated character – the spotlight is squarely on Ronnie) leading complicated lives.

It fails at this.

Instead, the film feels overly busy, stuffed with superfluous incident (a wedding catering gig waiting in the wings, Jeff’s Murakami-esque allegorical novel, some last minute business about a comic book movie that Henry is cast in) and yet limps along when we’re dealing with what should be the meat of the matter – the interplay between these four characters. There’s no sense of progression, either dramatically or in terms of what should be evolving character dynamics. When the credits roll, everyone is almost exactly who they were when they started out – which is pretty damning.

Coupled with a flattened, almost non-existent character arc is the feeling that the script, co-written by director Marion Pilowsky and Lee Sellars, doesn’t trust the audience to keep up with current events, which is insulting; The Flip Side, for all its needless bells and whistles, is a pretty straight forward affair, and yet there exists in its universe a character, played by comedian Susie Youssef, whose sole function is to act as a sounding board so Ronnie can reiterate what we just saw happen in the preceding scenes. This happens more than once.

There are occasional bright spots. The hugely charismatic Izzard occasionally wrings laughs out of his flamboyant and self-aggrandising character; Guide, underserved by the script, goes full over the top bitchy Eurotrash; and cinematographer Steve Arnold (Last Cab to Darwin) keeps things bright and poppy. There, that’s your lot.

The Flip Side isn’t terrible. Terrible films are at least interesting. It’s like a nail chewed to the quick, or a cold not severe enough to warrant a day off: annoying, certainly not enjoyable, but soon over and easily forgotten.

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Jonathan and Josh Baker: Kindred Spirits

Having made their mark in commercials and short films, directing duo Jonathan and Josh Baker, twin brothers hailing from Australia but based in the States, have unveiled their feature debut, the sci-fi road movie, Kin.
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Using their 2014 short Bag Man as a jumping-off point, Australian filmmaking duo Jonathan and Josh Baker’s (twins – there’s a lot of that around at the moment) Kin spices up a lo-fi character-driven crime drama by injecting just a hint of science fiction into the proceedings – with mixed but interesting results.

Setting its scene in the rundown environs of economically devastated Detroit, Kin introduces us to teenage Eli Solinski (Myles Truitt) and his adopted father, construction boss Hal (Dennis Quaid), whose lives are disrupted by the return of Hal’s older son Jimmy (Jack Reynor), fresh out of prison and in debt to local crimes bosses Taylor (James Franco) and Dutch (Gavin Fox) Balik. After a horribly botched robbery, Jimmy finds himself on the run with Eli in tow and a vengeful Taylor in hot pursuit.

The fantastical intrudes into this fairly realistic narrative in the form of a high tech energy rifle that Eli has found in an abandoned industrial site – alongside the body of the armoured being who carried it. Its origins are kept obscure – but we do know that figures similar to the weapon’s original wielder are tracking it down.

And yet, for the most part Kin is a road movie shaded with crime drama elements, of the kind we saw a lot of in the ’90s after Tarantino hit big. Brash, rash Jimmy and thoughtful, observant Eli bicker and bond, joined by stripper Milly (Zoë Kravitz), who they encounter when Jimmy’s mouth gets him into trouble at a sleazy honky tonk. Occasionally the laser gun gets employed to spectacular effect during a mini crime spree, but generally we’re in familiar territory, made enjoyable by the strong performances by Truitt, Raynor, and Kravitz.

For all that, the Baker brothers wear their genre influences on their sleeves – James Cameron gets a nod more than once, the anime series Bubblegum Crisis appears on a background television, and the wide open middle-American spaces the film largely takes place in are reminiscent of Rian Johnson’s Looper, which was set in Kansas City and its cornfield surrounds. There’s a background level of strangeness, of weird stuff happening just below the range of notice of the average Joe, and that thrill of being allowed ingress into a hidden world is a delicious one.

Still, when Kin‘s genre elements take the foreground in the third act, it’s a little underwhelming – in the main because so many questions are left unanswered, clearly to set us up for a sequel or franchise that the preceding story doesn’t quite earn. It’s a shame – if it managed to stick the landing, Kin would have been a neat, satisfying one and done sci-fi drama. As it stands, it’s the opening movement of a larger saga and, while that might be interesting if and when it arrives, the film as it stands doesn’t exactly leave the viewer champing at the bit for more.



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Crazy Rich Asians

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The first thing you need to make note of is that there is no comma in that title. As in the source novel by Kevin Kwan, the Asians in question are not, in the main, crazy and rich (although YMMV) but “crazy rich” – upper echelon ethnic Chinese Singaporeans absolutely dripping, and sometimes nearly drowning, in wealth and power, the scions of old business dynasties who think nothing of private jets, bachelor parties in international waters, 30 million dollar weddings, and other acts and signifiers of glaringly conspicuous consumption. At one point a pair of $1.2M antique earrings are deployed as a symbol of personal freedom – for a character who laments she may have to stay in one of the 14 apartment buildings she owns.

Into this milieu is thrust Chinese-American economics professor Rachel Chu (Constance Wu, effortlessly charming), of hard working, hardscrabble immigrant stock, who is surprised to learn that her handsome, charismatic boyfriend Nick Young (Henry Golding, given pitifully little to do except look good) is effectively Singapore’s Prince William when she accompanies home for a family wedding. Dropped into a social shark tank, Rachel is circled by avaricious would-be wives who view her as a gold-digging interloper, and looked down upon by Nick’s disapproving, family-first mother, Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh, magnificent), who thinks this Asian-American girl doesn’t have the steel and sense of duty necessary to be the wife Nick needs. Can Rachel overcome these formidable obstacles and win her rightful place at Nick’s side?

Well, of course she bloody can. While Crazy Rich Asians has quite rightfully won plaudits for Asian representation (it is, as we have been ceaselessly told, the first major American film to feature a majority-Asian cast since 1993’s The Joy Luck Club) it is, at base, a romantic comedy, and that means it follows certain forms and hits certain expected beats.

It’s generally successful in doing so, too. Director Jon M. Chu, who cut his teeth on the Step Up dance movies, is a sumptuous visual stylist who takes great pains to draw us into this incredibly exotic and luxurious world, his camera dwelling on glittering lights and rich textures, dark rainforest woods, light, silky fabrics and gleaming jewels (and incredible food – at times CRA feels like a tourism promo for Singapore). Like many of its genre mates, from Pretty Woman to Sex and the City to, yeah, even Fifty Shades, Crazy Rich Asians is lifestyle porn, and though it takes a few vague stabs at the nobility of self-enforced poverty, it’s really about Rachel proving herself worthy of joining this rarefied clique, where everyone is beautiful, bachelor parties in international waters are the norm, and glamorous shopping expeditions are but a private helicopter ride away.

Which is gauche, of course, but Constance Wu’s disarming performance carries the day – we can just about believe she actually sees something in Nick, who is not so much a character as a life support system for a set of abs. Rachel’s journey and the choices she faces would have more resonance if Nick ever came across as an actual person rather than a symbol – even when the film pivots to his point of view for a few scenes, he never feels like an actual person with their own wants and drives.

It’s the supporting cast who do a lot of the heavy lifting in that department, and thank god for Awkwafina as Goh, Rachel’s Singaporean college roommate, who at least has the sense to realise how absurd the world she inhabits is, and Nico Santos as Cousin Oliver, a flamboyantly gay family fixer who acts as our guide to the convoluted familial dynamics. That is also par for the rom-com course – remember Laura San Giacomo in Pretty Woman? While Awkwafina and Santos are funny as hell, their narrative function is to remind our heroine of who and where she is – but never to such a degree that the structures of class and privilege that underpin the whole concern are questioned or challenged (the one minor character who does this is treated as a villain).

But we’re here for the confection, right? The magnificent artifice of it all! One would hope so – otherwise you’re in for a bad couple of hours, which is a shame when Crazy Rich Asians wants to show you such a good time, complete with what may very well be the single most glamorous wedding ever committed to film. Crazy Rich Asians is, to once again cite Pretty Woman, Cinder-fuckin-ella, and to decry it because it’s just a fairy tale is to miss the point entirely.