Welcome to the guilty pleasure-dome here on Movie Talk where I’m going to be waxing lyrical from time to time on some of those movies that you love but perceived wisdom says you shouldn’t. Critics hate them, but punters love ‘em (if the recent success of Mamma Mia is anything to go by). So, are they bad? Are they so bad they’re good? Or are they just misunderstood?
I’m going to jump into the deep-end with a film that got a right proper roasting from the UK critics but which I think is fabulous: Baz Luhrmann’s Australia starring Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman. Basically, it’s a chick-flick to die for (and being a Mills and Boon author in my spare time, I happen to be fairly partial to chick flicks).
Now, I should start off by saying Baz’s movie extravaganza (if you listen to him) is supposed to be a homage to his homeland, the Wonderful Land of Oz: its vast open spaces; its eerie, timeless natural beauty; the good, the bad and the ugly strands of its recent history; and Hugh Jackman’s rather spectacular abs (actually I said that, not Baz, but once you’ve seen the scene where Hugh soaps off the trail dust by a campfire I think you’ll get my drift.)
But we’re not going to listen to Baz, are we. Because what Australia really is, is a lush, larger-than-life romantic fantasy (it ain’t called ‘The Antipodean Gone With the Wind’ for nothing, folks).
How do I figure that? Well, let’s check out the plot, in a nutshell (and beware there are a few spoilers here):
Nicole’s uptight English aristocrat arrives at her husband’s broken-down Outback cattle station Faraway Downs courtesy of Hugh’s hot, sweaty and roughly sexy drover called, um, Drover. She finds her husband has been murdered (convenient, that) and then has to save the station and the mixed-race Aboriginal lad Nullah (who she’s sort of adopted) with Hugh’s reluctant help.
Cue a life-changing cattle drive through lots of spellbinding scenery with Nic falling for Hugh, Hugh falling for Nic, Nic falling for Little Nullah, Nic falling for the strange alien beauty of the Australian landscape, Nullah falling for Hugh and Nic and the song Somewhere Over the Rainbow, and… Well, you get the picture, it’s all one big love-in with Judy Garland bells on by the time they reach Darwin.
But that’s not all…
I know, this is getting to be a pretty big nutshell, but bear with me. In the movie’s three-hour plus running time, Luhrmann also throws in the Japanese bombing of Darwin, David Gulpilil’s clairvoyant medicine man, a Wizard of Oz motif (geddit?), Bryan Brown’s greedy cattle baron, David Wenham’s irredeemable rotter, a thundering stampede, Tara-style sunsets galore, the tragedy of Australia’s Stolen Generation of Aboriginal children, vicious racism, raw courage, fire, brimstone, torrential rainstorms, Hugh in a tux, Hugh on a horse, Hugh by a campfire, etc, etc, etc. Phew! It’s exhausting.
So why did it get that roasting from the critics (and Germaine Greer, bless her, in a three-page hatchet job in The Guardian no less)… Could it have something to do with the fact that it’s the teeniest, weeniest bit Over The Top?
Okay, I’ll admit it, if you’re looking for restrained, subtle, intellectually challenging, historically accurate and politically balanced period drama you’ll want to give Australia a fairly wide berth.
But if, on the other hand, you’re looking for something that will take your breath away, have you on the edge of your seat, and make you scream, swoon, laugh (Nic’s ultra-plummy Brit accent got a pretty big laugh out of me), cry and go all gooey inside, then this is your movie.
Guilty pleasures don’t come much guiltier (or more pleasureable frankly).