If the local audience reaction to the premiere screening of Marion Pilowsky’s first feature film The Flip Side is anything to go by, this film is destined to do well here in Adelaide.
Was this warm reception due simply to the recognition factor in seeing so many shots of our distinctive local iconography on display? Or due to the occasional humorous glimpses of our apparently ‘loveable bogan-ry’ that are worked into the narrative? It is hard to tell.
Whether the film offers audiences outside of Adelaide enough meat on its bones to satisfy a market that has had a continuous smorgasboard of rom-coms to satiate its hunger for this particular form of film also remains to be seen.
The Flip Side’s plotline is not particularly original – at its centre is a slightly tweaked riff on an old theme – exploring the idea used in The Wizard Of Oz, where Dorothy’s ‘there’s no place like home’ revelation provides the pay off after her short time spent in the daunting but infinitely more interesting land of Oz, where all she ends up doing is seeking to return to the dusty, sepia tinged world of her hometown in Kansas.
The notion wrestled with here is that, despite an apparent wish to break free from the known pressures and familiarity of our home environments, the exciting, exotic and alluring lands of ‘somewhere else’ may only provide short-term satisfaction and ultimately turn out to be a disappointment. Maybe ‘home’ is where we should be – safe in our comfort zone, even if deep in debt and unfulfilled in our relationships? Should we ‘stick firm and stay put’, because it will probably all work out fine, eventually? In the current political environment such a worryingly conservative and xenophobic viewpoint is something that many people are having to consider and assess.
Pilowsky and her partner, Lee Sellars, nevertheless, avoid such overt political concerns and have created some well-drawn characters in this film, but some seem to have been miscast.
Comedienne and singer, Emily Taheny, certainly suits her role as Ronnie, a relatable, ‘ordinary’ young woman who entertains ambitions of becoming a top-class chef. She is given some hope that she will be able to transcend her frustrating and unfulfilling life and enter into the world of fame and fortune by way of falling into a romantic affair with famous actor, Henry Salbert (played by Eddie Izzard). Salbert was in Australia making a film, a project upon which Ronnie had been employed as an on-site caterer.
Events subsequently occur where this budding relationship stalls at the starting gate, and we find Ronnie still in Adelaide, some years later, now in a relationship with a typically laid back Australian writer and part-time school teacher, Jeff (played convincingly by Luke McKenzie).
Jeff is working on a novel which, symbolically important to the main storyline here, revolves around a problematic cross-species relationship between a human and an arachnid, whilst Ronnie is trying to keep her inner suburban restaurant and catering business solvent, and struggling to keep her ageing Alzheimers-suffering mother (Tina Bursill) in an upmarket aged care facility where the accommodation fees are in arrears and well overdue.
After an unexpected phone call, Henry Salbert, it transpires, is back in town with his French travelling companion and personal assistant, Sophie (Vanessa Guide as a wonderfully flirty and bitchy sophisticate who provides a necessary stark contrast with ingénue, Ronnie) and he wants to organise a reunion with his old flame.
What ensues is an enticingly shot travelogue through Adelaide’s northern wine regions and around our suburban and southern beaches as the two couples play out an old-fashioned farce where fidelity is challenged and personal priorities are reassessed.
Eddie Izzard, as the heart-throb film idol who has such a degree of sexual magnetism that women cannot resist baring their breasts for him in the streets of Hahndorf, is not fully convincing as Salbert. He has unfortunately been given a look far too reminiscent of Peter Goers – which, with no disrespect intended to the cherished Adelaide media icon, is taking the South Australian flavour here just one step too far! Izzard also seemed inappropriately disengaged far too often. The chemistry between Salbert and Ronnie is absent and, disappointingly, there is no fizz or spark of possible reignition in their relationship when this was a necessary element in order for the audience to accept that Ronnie is being faced with a plausible life choice.
The ability of the audience to suspend disbelief was also impaired by the casting of some of the minor roles. Tina Bursill, as Ronnie’s disoriented mum, really looked too neat and in control, and probably too young for the role. Whilst Bursill is a fine actress, and in the right age demographic for the part, here she indisputably proves that 60 is the new 40, as an irrepressible youthful sparkle shines in her eyes when the role called for a more defeated and lost demeanour.
Hugh Sheridan, as the bean counter at the old folks’ home who is hell-bent on having Ronnie pay up or ship her mother out, is surprisingly wooden in his small cameo.
Vanessa Guide is a revelation though, playing the sinuously sexy and snarky Sophie brilliantly, particularly in her interplay with McKenzie’s character, Jeff, where she ensures the film maintains momentum at those times when the action becomes a little slow paced.
Overall, The Flip Side is an entertaining film. It does not seek to step too far outside our expectations of its genre, it reinforces generally accepted mores which should guarantee it has a broad appeal, and hopefully encourage some analyses of these. It also allows us to laugh at our Adelaidean flaws and foibles whilst at the same time permitting us to maintain our sense of oft-thought, but rarely publicly expressed, superiority over those who seek to demean and belittle us for being true to our raw and unrefined selves.
The Flip Side opens in cinemas from August 30. See your local guides for screening times.