To some viewers, Australian comedies are a warm blanket providing comfort and joy. For some, they’re an acquired taste, the cinematic equivalent of Vegemite. For others, they’re only marginally preferable to arsenic, and for others still arsenic would be the preferred beverage of the two. Personally, I like local comedies just fine, though I’m not naturally predisposed towards them and have only seen the better known ones. In other words, I’ve seen The Castle, but not The Craic; I’ve watched The Wog Boy, but never Hercules Returns.
Throughout February and March, Down Under Flix will shine a light on thirteen Australian comedies, mostly from the 2000s. The noughties were a curious period for local comedies, a decade that yielded some big successes – The Wog Boy, The Dish, Crackerjack, Kenny – but also many duds, often from the very same creative teams. On first glance, there’s no holistic identity uniting the comedies of that period. The major comedies of the 70s – Alvin Purple and The Adventures of Barry McKenzie and Barry McKenzie Holds His Own – rejoiced in their newly forged opportunity to present Australian identity on film (even when covertly attacking it, as per Barry Humphries’ work) and embraced the sex and the sauce thanks to the liberal attitudes and censorship of the time. The major comedies of the 80s – Crocodile Dundee and Young Einstein and Les Patterson Saves the World – commodified that Australian identity for a global audience. And the major comedies of the 90s – Muriel’s Wedding and The Castle and The Adventures of Priscilla: Queen of the Desert – gave voice to misfits and social outcasts: suburban battlers and drag queens and plump downtrodden wallflowers all fell under their purview. The comedies of the 2000s, in contrast, appear less interested in cultural politics and national identity, less significant, and less meaningful overall. The outcasts had found expression, Australia’s global branding was secure, and Australian voices had pervaded both national and international cinema for three decades. What was left?
We’ll be chipping away at that question over the next few weeks, starting with these three romantic comedies. The rom-com is a genre that hews close to formula, with predictable outcomes and often diminishing returns, but when executed well can provide solid popcorn entertainment and sometimes even strike deeper chords. While none of these three films are stealth classics, for fans of the genre – and those fans are legion – they provide the usual comforts as well as some sneaky Antipodean charms.