Three Summers is a hugely enjoyable rom-com that celebrates the ideal of community harmony through inclusiveness and embrace of difference and diversity. Contender for feel-good movie of the year.
Three Summers, Fremantle-based writer/director Ben Elton’s second feature film, tracks changes in the lives of regular attendees of a summer folk festival in country WA (modelled on Pinjarra’s Fairbridge Folk Festival) over three consecutive years. It’s a clever conceit, believably throwing together a diverse range of people and ethnic groups – alternative Freo types, indigenous dancers, angry young leftist radicals, a punk duo (The Feminasties), ageing folk musos, bored youngsters dragged along by their parents, refugees, glamper middle-aged couples and even an AA group.
Not long into the first summer, it’s obvious that the set-up is micro-cosmic in nature, which is probably one of the reasons this first ‘act’ is the weakest part of the film. You can’t help suspecting you’re in for some leftist sermonising at the expense of the drama. It doesn’t help that the humour misses the mark all too often. Fortunately, the laughs pick up as the narrative progresses.
Hard-nosed conservative perspectives are represented in the character of a grumpy Morris-dancing grandad (Michael Caton). A child immigrant from England, he’s protective of his place in his adopted homeland, defensive of the status quo and uncharitable towards all he perceives as threatening it. Of course, this includes ethnic minorities, such as the indigenous dancers.
Tellingly, though, he has great sympathy for a shy young Afghan refugee boy, the fostered child of a couple camping nearby. Gramps is no political strawman – Elton paints him with the brush of humanity, as is the case with all the characters. This is the saving grace of the film: there is a warming sense of humanity that informs the writing and that the cast picks up on.
By the time we reach the second summer, fears of rampant political didacticism have faded. It’s clear by this point that Three Summers is first and foremost a rom-com, the main focus being the developing love story between the two misfit leads, free-spirited violinist Keevey (a luminescent Rebecca Breeds) and cerebral, pedantic, nerdy, know-all theremin player Roland (adroitly played by Robert Sheehan, whose soft Irish brogue is a delight). These guys are miles apart musically, but in perhaps the highlight of the film discover they’re dynamite together when they jam with musically orgasmic results. This sweet fusion of disparate entities – the violin with the theremin, the intuitive with the cerebral, the old with the new – speaks to the ideal of community harmony through inclusiveness and embrace of difference and diversity that lies at the heart of the movie.
Indeed, all the characters, even the minor ones, affirm this ideal in their developmental arcs. Caton’s grumpy grandad character undergoes the most profound change. As the film moves towards its conclusion he is moved to tears (he wasn’t the only one) by the on-stage plea for compassion of an Afghan musician whose band has been allowed day leave from a refugee camp. Gramps subsequently joins the indigenous dancers in performance. A step too far? For some maybe, not for me. I was long won over by this stage.
Whatever its flaws, Three Summers has two great assets: the characters and the performers who play them (which include Magda Szubanski, John Waters and Deborah Mailman). You get the sense that the cast had a ball making the movie, and their fun is infectious.
Three Summers has copped flak from some reviewers, who complain that it’s shallow, that the jokes are old hat and too often fizzers, and that it’s too earnest and obvious in its leftist political messages. They’re right on all counts. But you know what? It doesn’t matter. What does matter is that the film has an irresistible charm about it, is bright and energetic and endearingly dorky in that quintessentially Australian way, has its big, booming heart in the right place, and is all-round hugely enjoyable. I left the cinema smiling broadly, and so did most of the packed audience at the screening I attended. And hallelujah to that in these shit times.
Movie website: https://www.screenaustralia.gov.au/the-screen-guide/t/three-summers-2017/34762/
Australian release date: Three Summers in Australian cinemas from 2 Nov 2017
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