Featuring: Dan Wyllie, Bojana Novakovic, Gary Waddell, Luke Ford
Writer/Director: Rolf de Heer
Australian release date: July 19, 2012
When professional couple Max (Dan Wyllie) and Therese (Bojana Novakovic) move into their new home in a leafy suburban street, they are given a friendly welcome by the neighbours on one side. Those on the other are less accommodating, blasting out gangsta rap on a huge boombox in their grotty backyard, dealing drugs to unsavoury drop-ins and partying all night. Turns out the place is occupied by a single brain-fried tenant, The King (Gary Waddell), who is unable to control his iced-out visitors. As the noise and disruption becomes intolerable, and conventional avenues of imposed control such as lawyers and the police prove useless, Max and Therese decide to take the law into their own hands. Alas, they soon find themselves way out of their depth as things go disastrously awry.
This latest from Rolf de Heer starts with a nice opening montage of successive letterboxes along a suburban street, each inviting us to infer something about the occupants of the respective houses. What type of people bother pasting those “no junk mail” stickers on their letterboxes? Can we assume that rust and a support pole aslant denotes a rental property? The montage is accompanied by a whimsical jazz soundtrack with a walking bass, giving us the nod that we’re not to take this too seriously. Comedy ahead, wethinks!
Right we are. And indeed, there are some chuckles as the neighbours-from-hell scenario is developed. Especially enjoyable, initially, are the ludicrously violent and misogynistic lyrics of the gangsta rap send-up Ah’m The One (penned by de Heer – was there ever a more obvious and deserving target for parody than this ridiculous musical genre?), which meth-head rapper wannabe Shrek (Luke Ford) has thumping out on high rotation at all hours of the day and night. Yeah, it soon becomes too much of a good thing. Unfortunately, this first sniff of overkill builds to a stench as the film devolves.
Shrek and da boys indulge in a little harmless backyard fun
A bit over the half way point I realised I was bored. The narcissistic appeal of filmic immersion in a humorously treated and all-too-familiar suburban world quickly wears off, and the yuppy(ish) stereotype lead couple are not interesting enough in themselves to power the piece. Further, Bojana Novakovic is a weak link as Therese, not assisted by some bum lines. Or perhaps her character is to blame; whatever, I found her irritating and unconvincing.
The lowlife neighbours are nothing more than cartoon sketches, whose comic appeal quickly falls flat in the absence of any meaningful dramatic development. The King is an exception, Gary Waddell doing his best to breathe life into his character, but he doesn’t have much to play with.
These reservations aside, as a light-hearted and sometimes charming depiction of suburban life pushing off a premise many will identify with, the movie works OK until it runs out of gas. Then, almost desperately short of inspiration it seems, de Heer veers off the tracks tonally and narratively, hoonishly spinning out. When the dust settles, his now dinged-up and backfiring vehicle is left sputtering toxic fumes in some sort of low-budget black comedy theatre milieu. It’s really quite bemusing.
Max and Therese look up from their grevilleas, a tad concerned about the goings-on next door…
From well-controlled suburban comedy, the piece unravels into something resembling an improvised theatre arts student exercise, as we are wrenched from cosy yuppy household to a dinghy one-room set, with a corpse hanging from ropes, and Maori drug dealer heavies breaking legs and heads with baseball bats… Too much, much too much. And not funny.
My partner remarked astutely that it is as if Rolf de Heer had suddenly decided to do a Rolf de Heer. She was referencing the film that put him on the directorial map, the erratic and meandering but highly original, blackly funny, jaw-droppingly bizarro and generally extremely impressive Bad Boy Bubby.
I’ve had a soft spot for de Heer ever since Bad Boy Bubby. I wanted to like this, and for a while the signs were good. But jeez, nothing survives a derailment of this magnitude. The narrative recovers some poise with a nice (and generically appropriate) twist at the end that formalists like me will find faintly satisfying, but all too late for redemption.
I don’t like dissing de Heer, but gotta call it how I see it: this is a barker from someone who should know a whole lot better. Some scripts are best left untroubled in the bottom drawer.
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