Thanks largely to some fine performances, A Month of Sundays overcomes a slow, stuttering start, a clumsily managed premise and other writing deficits to find its heart and finish strongly.
Let’s start with a positive. The performances in this new Australian film are first rate. Anthony LaPaglia is an inspired casting choice as middle-aged real estate agent Frank Mollard. Characters like this – world weary, enthused by nothing, cynical and emotionally shut down but ripe for change without necessarily knowing it – are right up his alley, and he does the part full justice. John Clarke hits all the right notes as Frank’s boss Phillip Lang, geeing up the often flat/misfiring humour with choice timing and delivery. And Julia Blake is all class as Sarah, an ailing elderly woman whom Frank “adopts” as his mother.
Unfortunately, they have to work off a seriously flawed script, which comes close to sinking the movie. By the half-way point, I was squirming. The low point is the (mis)management of the premise. Intending to phone her son, Sarah dials Frank’s number in error. After some initial hesitation he responds to her as if she were his mother, who is dead. This is a realist piece. There is nothing to suggest that it might slide off on some Twilight Zone tangent, yet this is how the conversation comes across. Has Frank lost his marbles, or is the movie is about to get a whole lot worse and become something jarringly weird?
He continues to refer to the caller as “Mum” when relating the incident to his boss, who hesitantly ventures “But isn’t your mother…?” Frank’s subsequent verification that she had died the previous year is the first indication we get that he is aware that the caller was not his mother. Would a hard nut like Frank carry on like this? It’s way out of character. It’s silly. It’s just bad writing.
It does, however, open the line to the best comedic line in the film, which comes when Frank receives a call from Sarah at work, which his boss answers, quipping as he hands over the phone “It’s Freud.”
Yes, Frank chases up Sarah. The psychological rationale is that he has unfinished business with his mother, has not properly mourned her death and is seeking to reach some sort of closure through his interaction with this new substitute mother. He begins calling on Sarah regularly at her home. Little wonder her real son views him with suspicion when he joins them for the Sunday roast!
By some miracle, the movie pulls out of its death spiral and finds its heart from the point at which Frank begins calling on Sarah. Parallel with this development, Frank begins to unthaw, bringing his teenage son to tears when he acknowledges his acting potential after witnessing his performance in a school play.
When Sarah receives some news that leads her – and her son – to look to Frank for support, the film builds to an emotionally-charged climax that didn’t seem possible in its slow and unfocused first half. It’s quite a recovery, although there’s a twist at the end that, while warming, smacks of an over-concern with tying up narrative loose ends, and a smug cleverness at the literariness that is demonstrated in thus completing the jigsaw. Amateurish stuff.
A Month of Sundays is a creditable failure rather than the disaster it initially threatens to be, but with rigorous reworking of the screenplay and some judicious editing it could have been so much more.
Movie website: http://www.amonthofsundaysfilm.com.au/
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