Big and stupid, but a nice, traditional Thanksgiving weekend activity.
I have mixed feelings about Baz Luhrmann, the director of this Thanksgiving’s big epic monster, Australia. His signature “offbeat” style began as heartwarmingly quirky in Strictly Ballroom (1992)*, progressed to teen mindblowing in Romeo + Juliet (1996), and culminating in the oversaturated, self-indulgent mess that is Moulin Rouge (2001). After that, it seems, the guy decides to tone down the over-stylizing and make a huge, sweeping epic — ten years after these sorts of movies hit their peak.
Australia, which clocks in at close to three hours, is a film in about 75 acts. You got your love story, your war story, your racism story, your mystical aboriginal story, your coming of age story…it’s Last of the Mohicans, Braveheart, Dances with Wolves, Out of Africa, Empire of the Sun, and Titanic combined! Sarah, played by the predictably solid Nicole Kidman, is an English noblewoman who comes to rough ol’ dry Australia to see about her husband’s estate. Soon, a convenient conflict comes up, and she and the Drover, played by the predictably “solid” Hugh Jackman, have to team up despite their differences and persevere. Also, there’s a little boy. Also, a wise old guy. Also, some stuff about pride and honor and tolerance and freedom. All it needs is a John Barry score and a time machine, and Australia would trounce all of its competitors.
Well, maybe. I said Luhrmann had toned down his stylizing, I didn’t say he’d gotten rid of it entirely. There’s some choppy camerawork and surprising timing in certain parts of the film that don’t jive later on with its ethereal Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow quality. And there are some parts that you think are going to slip you the old-fashioned Baz whimsy but instead deliver bland epic-movie resolutions. But as inconsistent and irrelevant as the film is, it ends up nearly satisfying you.
Bear with me, here. The reason I say this is because it’s seasonal! What’s better than going to a nice big family Thanksgiving dinner and then escaping as quickly as you can, hauling off the cooler siblings and cousins, to get to the movies? Some of us have been doing this for years! And judging by the crowds at the movie theaters, we’re not the only ones. Australia has obliged the turkey-laden crowd this year by coming out on a Wednesday, just in time for you to settle in a cushy seat, digest your huge dinner, and possibly fall asleep. Who cares! It’s an easy to watch blockbuster that requires little thought, and if you snooze a little, it doesn’t matter because you’ve predicted all of the events in the film anyway! Plus, its premise turns from “dated” to “nostalgic,” with the help of a little holiday sentimentalism (provided by you), and in the end, you’ll be glad you didn’t see a thinkpiece. No one wants to be accosted with discussion about the film you just saw while you’re having a midnight turkey sandwich snack (or by your (grown) sister climbing into your bed in the middle of the night because you’ve both just seen The Ring and can’t sleep. Damn you, Gore Verbinski!).
So don’t be afraid to climb out of your well and hang out with Baz Luhrmann this holiday weekend. I can promise you at least one chair-gripping moment and at least two glimpes of Hugh Jackman’s muscles. And I don’t know about you, but I can’t get that sitting around my mom’s house washing dishes.
*An adorable film that I used to think was the poor man’s Dirty Dancing, but upon a recent rewatching of that undeniable 80s classic, I’ve realized it’s the other way around. Rent it immediately. A life lived in fear is a life half lived!!