Thursday, November 8, 2018

Flammable Children


Australian Actresses Radha Mitchell (left to right), Asher Keddie, and Kylie Minogue

FLAMMABLE CHILDREN                         C                    
aka:  Swingin’ Safari
Australia  (97 mi)  2018  d:  Stephan Elliot 

If our parents have everything, why are they so miserable?

Probably more than any other film seen, this is simply not a festival quality film (despite being picked Best of the Fest at the Edinburgh Film Festival) and is actually one of the worst films of the year, feeling more like a Kuchar Brothers production making a film in Australia about life in suburbia in the 1970’s, as it just feels so amateurish, though it features big name stars.  This is about as over-the-top as you can get in broad-based comedy, exaggerated to the point of caricature, becoming almost cartoonish, except, oddly enough, there’s very little humor to be had, as this is instead just outrageously cringeworthy.  Supposedly a satire on bad parenting, a laissez-faire era when kids did pretty much whatever they pleased, this film fondly looks back as if these were the good old days, where memories may be distorted over time, almost like fishing stories, becoming more and more embellished until it has the feel of make believe.  Nothing, absolutely nothing in this film looks remotely realistic or believable, instead it’s all fabricated for kitsch commercial processing, like we’re getting 90-minutes of advertisement outtakes, where the theme might be all the reasons you would never want to visit Australia.  Let’s imagine all the things that could go wrong that might turn people off, and then let’s string them all together in one epic misadventure and call it a wacky Aussie comedy.  Honestly, it’s right out of the National Lampoon’s Vacation series starring Chevy Chase and the misfit Griswold family, consisting of anybody else who wants to make a paycheck.  The film is written and directed by Stephan Elliott, most famous for his work on the film THE ADVENTURES OF PRISCILLA, QUEEN OF THE DESERT (1994), which explored the LGBT gender dynamics.  This film is so straight it’s like they’re bending over backwards to make sure nothing closeted creeps in, becoming so offensive to the mainstream that no one could mistake the world being depicted as anything other than that idyllic suburban dream where everyone conforms while looking and behaving exactly like everyone else, told from a child’s point of view so no one is ever seen working, yet everyone’s affluent, without a care in the world, free to enjoy the full extent of happiness in life, where it’s the best life money can buy for that perfect little world living at the end of a cul-de-sac in a Queensland subdivision one summer in the 1970’s, in a seaside town called Nobby’s Beach not far from the scenic ocean shoreline, described as a town that “time, and taste, forgot,” viewed as a happier time when things were much simpler, retitled SWINGIN’ SAFARI in Australia to match the zillion seller hit from 1962, Bert Kaempfert And His Orchestra: A Swingin' Safari - YouTube (3:07), which is about as annoying as this film ends up being. 

The crassness of the film’s intentional bad taste is no accident, with Oscar winner Lizzy Gardiner from Priscilla returning as the costume designer, which pretty much defines the look of the film, as it’s an era of polyester leisure suits and bad facial hair, where outlandish outfits are all the rage, perhaps best expressed by flared pants and bold, obnoxious patterns on shirts, and while that hangover effect resuscitates your memory banks, the sexual revolution is also in full swing, where experimentation with sex in the suburbs is all the rage.  The times are described by narrator Richard Roxburgh, who announces at the start, “We were the first generation to wear full synthetic fabrics.  We were also the last.”  The film concerns itself with three lovably eccentric middle-class couples living next to each other, Keith (Guy Pearce as a bleached blond, always flexing his muscles) and Kaye Hall (Kylie Minogue, a boozer, somewhat neurotic in a wig), Rick (Julian McMahon, the most well-off, leering throughout, always hosting the parties at their house) and Jo Jones (Radha Mitchell, nearly unrecognizable in a wig, but sex-charged, another boozy floozy), and Bob (Jeremy Sims, gargantuan sideburns, dementedly crazy) and Gale Marsh (Asher Keddie, the prude), none ready to let go of their youth, all feeling their oats and eager to try the latest fads, but drinking is always plentiful as they finagle any old excuse to hold a party among themselves, living in a bubble completely ignoring their children.  Meanwhile, fending for themselves, misunderstood teens include Jeff Marsh (Atticus Robb) as a budding filmmaker (the narration is a grown-up version of this character, looking back with nostalgia-tinged memories), the director’s childhood image of himself as a “backyard Spielberg” carrying his Super 8 video camera around with him wherever he goes, whose bad amateur quality footage comprises much of the film (a film within a film), as he pursues his heartthrob, next door neighbor Melly Jones (Darcey Wilson), moody, overly shy, easily embarrassed, yet willing to be seen at Jeff’s side through most of the picture, basically as an excuse to get away from her parents.  With the adult parents continually embarrassing themselves, the children are much more level-headed and tend to be the adults in the room, though Jeff gets his start under the “Deathcheaters” banner filming gory neighborhood movies with flaming daredevil stunt antics, as kids are willing to endure setting each other on fire and other exploding special effects that inevitably go haywire (hey, they can always jump in the pool), all captured on film which makes them feel larger than life and full of themselves, the kind of stuff people put out on YouTube today.  The American title comes from a freak accident that occurred with a match when Jeff and Melly’s synthetic clothing caught on fire, giving them an indelible nickname and a fitting end to the synthetic fabric generation. 

“A decade with too much time, too much money, and too much cask wine,” goes Richard Roxburgh’s narration, and while Keith sells Funk & Wagnall encyclopedias, Kaye drinks, bored with their marital malaise, unable to keep an eye on the children.  Rick and Jo are the wealthiest among them with the biggest house, featuring a sunken pit in their living room, perfect for holding drunken fondue parties, but their daughter Melly is painfully shy.  On the other side are Gail and Bob, sexually frustrated themselves, with a sexually overactive teenage daughter Bec (Chelsea Glaw), who is the highlight of the neighborhood for all the teenage boys, much of it filmed by Jeff, as the boys line up in the hallway outside her door to get a chance to be with her.   The real-life inspirations for Jeff and Melly are the director and his costume designer Lizzy Gardiner, who’ve been friends since childhood, once living on the same block.  While the adults mistook the time they spent together as a budding romance, Elliot in real-life is openly gay, not really interested in girls, so that was always inconceivable in their minds, but they have remained close friends.  Nothing brings kids together more than their parents acting like imbeciles, which they proceed to do with the novel idea of a wife-swapping party, which may work in their imaginations, but the results are dreadful, as the idea of your next-door neighbor bonking your wife may arouse anger and suspicion, turning into trust issues, where friends are suddenly friends no more, getting into heated altercations, with the kids watching all this wondering what’s going on.  Suddenly backyard barbeques and beachside picnics are no longer in vogue, with all the adults getting the silent treatment.  What transpires to change all this is an unforeseen casualty, like an act of God, when a giant-sized 200-ton blue whale washes up to shore, barely still alive, something residents had never seen before, all gathering around taking photos, where it becomes the biggest event in town history, with people from all over the country dropping in to see what the hoopla is all about, broadcast live on television news features, where few show any interest in the health of the whale, but just want that incomparable photo that proves they were there.  That the poor animal died was of little consequence, as soon the crowds died down and people stopped coming, but there was a question of what to do with that enormous creature that was still stuck on the beach.  The best civic minds apparently thought that blowing the creature up was the best policy, which excited people in the near vicinity, as everyone showed up for the demolition, cameras ready, in another chaotic frenzy, where it was once again the talk of the town.  Of course, like all the other ideas, this one didn’t go so well, but it may have been the magical event that eventually motivated Jeff and Melly to finally make their way out of town and start new lives elsewhere.  

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