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By Sarina Rowell
I am never sure whether it would make a person feel good or bad to hear that either they themselves or something they have created is thought to be severely underrated. Yes, naturally, being classed as underrated would be better than being classed as overrated, but the trouble is that it indicates a dearth of applause that the person in question may not even have realised was their, or its, lot. So, at the risk of causing offence should anyone involved with the motion picture in question be reading this, my vote for Most Underrated Australian Film goes to Cherie Nowlan’s Thank God He Met Lizzie.
In terms of its reception, it’s my belief that Thank God He Met Lizzie suffered from not being what it wasn’t – namely, something that featured Loene Carmen playing a junkie.
I first saw this work at Sydney’s Cremorne Orpheum in 1997, and the trouble with going to the Orpheum was that you always felt slightly ripped off if you weren’t treated to the man playing the olden-time organ, even though you hardly ever were treated to the man playing the olden-time organ. In fact, I think I can only ever recall once being graced with his presence, before a teeming Saturday-night screening of Fatal Attraction. Nonetheless, I remember that when I saw Thank God He Met Lizzie, my good humour quickly returned during its opening scene, when a party guest, apropos of nothing, says to another, ‘You know who I really hate? Prince Andrew.’ This line didn’t make me so happy because I had a particular prejudice against this unfortunate royal, mind you; it made me happy because of the unexpectedness of it. And it is this kind of unexpectedness that makes the film so pleasurable and so profound, with a story that is both as simple and as complicated as stories get.
Guy (Richard Roxburgh) is thirtyish and single, and desperate to be in a serious relationship with a woman, something that he spectacularly fails to accomplish by going to parties and being set up on dates. One morning, however, while out running, he sees a pregnant cat in distress and, while seeking assistance, ends up at the expensive doorstep of a glamorous doctor, Lizzie (Cate Blanchett).
After a brief courtship, they decide to marry, resulting in an elaborate wedding. However, even though Guy is besotted with Lizzie, he finds himself thinking constantly about his previously most significant affair, with Jenny (Frances O’Connor).
Now, Lizzie and Jenny, and their respective relationships with Guy, are of such opposite natures that this triangle could, in lesser hands than those of this particular writer (Alexandra Long), director and actors, feel contrived and unconvincing. Namely, Lizzie has a father who is a surgeon and a mother who would be able to hold her own with terrifying socialite Charlie in Sons and Daughters, while Jenny comes from a cheerfully eccentric working-class family; Lizzie is elegant and hyper-controlled, while Jenny is charming but chaotic; Lizzie is a blonde, while Jenny is a brunette. Lizzie and Guy got together in the sort of romantic way that is tailor-made for being recounted in a father-of-the-bride speech; Jenny and Guy got together because she purposely rammed her pool cue into him at a pub, and later staked him out at a party, after which they had sex for the first time, in a car.
While Lizzie upsets Guy in big ways, she seems much less likely than Jenny to upset him in the small ones, and that is what makes the difference in day-to-day life
Whatever differences the women have, though, Guy becomes equally disillusioned with both of them, although the process is much faster with Lizzie. His relationship with Jenny had curdled over years, turning from affectionate banter and high old times in the bedroom into his becoming chronically irritated at the way in which she never shut up, wouldn’t wash fruit before she ate it, read over his shoulder and left her dirty clothes on the floor, while she resented this pecking, and was hurt by his reluctance to get marry and have children with her.
Regarding Lizzie, though, Guy quickly makes several unpleasant discoveries during merely the course of their wedding day, among them that, while he had believed his meeting with her was preordained and their relationship some sort of miracle, he was really just part of her plan to be married by thirty. Then, once the newlyweds are ensconced in their hotel room, she deals him the worst blow of all.
Aside from anything, Thank God He Met Lizzie is often very funny, as when Lizzie assures her husband-to-be that the priest who will marry them has a great sense of humour and Guy replies, ‘They all do now; it doesn’t prove God exists’. And there is the nuttiness of Jenny’s father (Roy Billing), with his ‘tune I penned in an idle hour’ (a bizarre ode to the Sydney Harbour Bridge); his refusal to accept Latin’s status as a dead language; and his obsession with the Republican movement and statistics about Queen Elizabeth’s use of public money. And then there is the wedding MC, Darren (Jonathan Biggins), referring to himself on his business card as a landscape gardener and ‘specialist in human relations’. It is, of course, also small, exquisitely surprising moments that make it a deeply sad film. When Jenny and Guy finally break up, and he says, ‘The magic’s gone; we can’t get it back’, we are expecting her to insist that they can. Instead, though, she replies, ‘Why would we want to do that?’ This line makes no sense in one way, while also making total sense, in telling us just how much Jenny wants to cling on to whatever it is they still have, whatever state it’s in.
It is this kind of unexpectedness that makes the film so pleasurable and so profound, with a story that is both as simple and as complicated as stories get.
And this brings me to why, most of all, I am crazy about Thank God He Met Lizzie, and that is the extent to which for the past fifteen years or so it has really made me think about its characters, their existences and the wisdom of their actions both within and without the ambit of the film. Namely, I’ve always imagined Jenny having a truly septic time with men throughout her thirties but meeting the honest-to-goodness love of her life in her forties. In the case of Guy and Lizzie, it is equally possible to imagine them undergoing a bitter divorce; staying together semi-miserably for the sake of the children whom we see briefly in the final scene; or, who knows, perhaps even ultimately being happy together and only parted, and reluctantly so, by death. I can’t tell you how many hours I’ve devoted to debating whether Guy was wrong or right to exit from his relationship with Jenny and, yes, on one hand, his having done so is deeply upsetting, especially his lack of appreciation of her spirit and originality, and of how genuinely mad about him she was; on the other, he had fallen out of love with her and, quite possibly, was only ever as much, or as little, in love with her as he was with Lizzie. At the end of the day, just because we, the viewers, are in love with Jenny, it’s not fair to expect Guy to be. As well, the fact that he couldn’t stop thinking about Jenny the more serious his relationship with Lizzie became doesn’t mean anything. I’ve known men who have wept and wailed about exes whom they came to appreciate too late, but all this carry-on didn’t mean they should still have been in those relationships; it was much more to do with the past itself, due to its certainty and, thus, its safety, seeming wildly attractive to them. And, not only had Guy’s and Jenny’s relationship reached the terminal stage, the fact is that Jenny, winsome though she is, didn’t bring out the best in Guy; in fact, she brought out the worst, so that when he was with her, he was fussy, nagging and mean. He is actually a much nicer man when he’s with Lizzie and, yes, he may well have become a lot nastier later in their relationship, but while Lizzie upsets Guy in big ways, she seems much less likely than Jenny to upset him in the small ones, and that is what makes the difference in day-to-day life, let’s face it.
In terms of its reception, it’s my belief that Thank God He Met Lizzie suffered from not being what it wasn’t – namely, something that featured Loene Carmen playing a junkie. This seems to have made for a widespread assumption that it was going to be either a bland romantic comedy based around improbable wish fulfilment or a quirkfest based around improbable wish fulfilment, or some vile combination of the two. I’ve known people who have become fans of the film only after having deprived themselves of it for many years because they would rather have cooked and eaten their own feet for breakfast than seen either a bland romantic comedy or a quirkfest, while anyone who saw it and were expecting, and wanting, another Muriel’s Wedding would, I imagine, have been taken aback at what a downer it is and so not given it the positive word of mouth that makes for a hit. But I defy anyone not to be affected by one of Thank God He Met Lizzie’s final lines: ‘The trouble with happiness is, you don’t know when you have it; you remember it.’ And, the thing is, I don’t actually even agree with that statement, but I’ve spent an hour and a half watching characters so beautifully constructed and acted that, no matter their faults, I just can’t stand the thought that, wherever they are now, their best days might be behind them.
About Sarina Rowell: Sarina Rowell is a writer and freelance book editor based in Melbourne. She was co-editor of, and a regular columnist on, Tony Martin’s humour website The Scrivener’s Fancy, and a columnist on the ‘Melbourne Life’ page of The Age, and has also written for The Drum and The King’s Tribune. She has her own website, Imagined Slights, and tweets at @imaginedslights.
The statuettes have been presented, the winners have been toasted and the laurels have been sent out to each winning production. While the 2nd AACTA Awards may be fast receding behind us, there’s now the task of looking through all the wonderful photos and priceless video footage from the two Sydney events, and making sure they’re labelled and saved for posterity – and shared with screen industry and audience members alike.
In this, the first part of our AACTA Awards wrap, we shine the spotlight on the 2nd AACTA Awards Luncheon, presented by Deluxe and held in Sydney at The Star Event Centre on Monday 28 January.
The luncheon was hosted by the ever-entertaining Adam Elliot, who memorably appeared in one segment dressed as a gold-clad human statuette. Other presenters included Diana Glenn, Jane Harber and Jimi Bani as well as acclaimed actors Damon Herriman, Daniel Henshall and Felicity Price. Also taking to the stage were The Sapphires stars Miranda Tapsell and Shari Sebbens.
A highlight of the luncheon was the special presentation of the Raymond Longford Award to Producer, Al Clark.
The 2nd AACTA Awards Luncheon, presented by Deluxe also recognised the talent and innovation of artists and craftspeople working across television, documentary, short fiction film, short animation and feature film categories. Here’s a quick rundown, with clips from our YouTube Channel:
AACTA AWARD FOR BEST FEATURE LENGTH DOCUMENTARY
Storm Surfers 3D. Ellenor Cox, Marcus Gillezeau.
AACTA AWARD FOR BEST DOCUMENTARY UNDER ONE HOUR
Then The Wind Changed. Jeni McMahon, Celeste Geer. ABC1
AACTA AWARD FOR BEST DOCUMENTARY SERIES
Go Back To Where You Came From. Rick McPhee, Ivan O’Mahoney. SBS
AACTA AWARD FOR BEST DIRECTION IN A DOCUMENTARY
Fighting Fear. Macario De Souza. FOXTEL – Movie Network
AACTA AWARD FOR BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY IN A DOCUMENTARY
Fighting Fear. Tim Bonython, Chris Bryan, Macario De Souza, Lee Kelly. FOXTEL – Movie Network
AACTA AWARD FOR BEST EDITING IN A DOCUMENTARY
Once Upon A Time In Cabramatta – Episode 1. Sam Wilson. SBS
AACTA AWARD FOR BEST SOUND IN A DOCUMENTARY
Dr Sarmast’s Music School. Dale Cornelius, Livia Ruzic, Keith Thomas. ABC1
AACTA AWARD FOR BEST SHORT ANIMATION
The Hunter. Marieka Walsh
AACTA AWARD FOR BEST SHORT FICTION FILM
Julian. Robert Jago, Matthew Moore.
AACTA AWARD FOR BEST SCREENPLAY IN A SHORT FILM
Transmission. Zak Hilditch.
AACTA AWARD FOR BEST LIGHT ENTERTAINMENT TELEVISION SERIES
Agony Aunts. Adam Zwar, Nicole Minchin. ABC1
AACTA AWARD FOR BEST TELEVISION COMEDY SERIES
Lowdown – Season 2. Nicole Minchin, Amanda Brotchie, Adam Zwar. ABC1
AACTA AWARD FOR BEST PERFORMANCE IN A TELEVISION COMEDY
Patrick Brammall. A Moody Christmas. ABC1
AACTA AWARD FOR BEST CHILDREN’S TELEVISION SERIES
The Adventures Of Figaro Pho. Dan Fill, Frank Verheggen, David Webster. ABC3
AACTA AWARD FOR BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
The Sapphires. Warwick Thornton.
AACTA AWARD FOR BEST EDITING
The Sapphires. Dany Cooper ASE.
AACTA AWARD FOR BEST SOUND
The Sapphires. Andrew Plain, Bry Jones, Pete Smith, Ben Osmo, John Simpson.
AACTA AWARD FOR BEST ORIGINAL MUSIC SCORE
Not Suitable For Children. Matteo Zingales, Jono Ma.
AACTA AWARD FOR BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN
The Sapphires. Melinda Doring.
AACTA AWARD FOR BEST COSTUME DESIGN
The Sapphires. Tess Schofield.
For full details of the 2nd AACTA Awards Luncheon, presented by Deluxe, see the AACTA website here.
Coming next: Part 2: Wrapping it up with a Bow: The 2nd AACTA Awards Ceremony.
Felicity Price is an actress and writer whose involvement with feature film Wish You Were Here is extensive. Not only did she co-write the script with her husband, director Kieran Darcy-Smith, but she stars in the lead role as Alice, a pregnant mother and wife whose carefree getaway to Cambodia goes horribly wrong. It’s a powerful film and a powerful performance, and Felicity is nominated for Best Lead Actress, and Best Original Screenplay (with Darcy-Smith). Join in our live discussion to chat about her creative processes and about the collaborative process of film writing and shooting.
How does it work? First, make sure you’re friends with us on the AACTA Facebook page. Click here to join our Felicity Price event page and when you join it will be added to your Facebook calendar. We’ll post event photo (above) to our FB page just before 12 midday on Tuesday. You can then comment on the image the way you would with any photo, and Felicity will log in to answer. Simple!
For background reading – and to remind you about the film Wish You Were Here, you can read this interview with Felicity and Kieran Darcy-Smith.
The winners of the 2nd AACTA Awards will be announced on 28th and 30th January. The winners of the AACTA Award categories in which Felicity is nominated will be announced on Wednesday 30 January at The Star Event Centre in Sydney, and broadcast on Network Ten at 9.30pm. Be watching on the night to catch all the action.
You know her as ‘Sue’, the blonde and slightly less ebullient of the terrible twosome (along with Ashleigh Cummings) at the centre of the Ten Network/Southern Star drama series Puberty Blues. Just 16 at the time of filming the first series, Brenna Harding has been nominated for an AACTA Award for Best Young Actor – and the series itself is nominated for Best Television Drama Series – with the winners being announced on Wednesday 30 January at the 2nd AACTA Awards Ceremony, broadcast on Ten at 9.30pm.
Brenna has also appeared in My Place, Packed to the Rafters and short films Shelling Peas and The Road Home. Join us on the AACTA Facebook page on Sunday 27 January at 4pm for a live chat with Brenna about her performance as a naughty-but-nice teenager living in the 1970s in Puberty Blues. We’re also keen to ask her what it’s like having Dan Wyllie and Susie Porter playing your parents.
By Sean Lynch
In this latest edition of our Why I Adore series, comedy writer, performer and presenter Sean Lynch waxes lyrical about his love for the John Edwards/Southern Star universe of Australian dramas – most recently brought to life in AACTA nominated drama series Tangle, starring Justine Clarke, Kat Stewart, Ben Mendelsohn and Matt Day.
If I’m being 100 per cent honest with myself – and it’s rare that I am (as far as I know, I’m a 74 year old Asian woman) — the reason I adore Tangle isn’t so much because of its own stand alone perfection, as it is for its association with sister series Love My Way and, to an extent, the entire John Edwards adult drama universe (from Secret Life Of Us through to Puberty Blues).
It’s very much the same reason I adore Woody Allen films: you can change the title, character names and packaging all you want, but at their core they’re all part of the same story; all searching for the truth at the centre of characters and ideas created by their writers long before the product in question was even considered.
Where Puberty Blues takes us on a journey from the ages of 10 – 20, Secret Life explored the perils of 20 – 30, and Love My Way looked at 30 -40. With Tangle, Edwards and company take us through the complications of being 40 – 50.
Tangle follows Ally (a pitch perfect “woman who has settled” Justine Clarke), who is married to Vince (charming rough-nut Ben Mendelsohn) and their two children, Romeo (Lincoln Younes) and Gigi (Eva Lazzaro).
In the first series of Tangle (aired on subscription television channel Showcase in 2010) Vince’s best friend Gabriel (Matt Day) has secretly been in love with Ally since their high school days, and when faced with the ultimate moral dilemma (love versus loyalty), Gabriel finds that he is unwilling to cover for (one of) Vince’s affairs with a local school mum.
Mixed in with all of this scandal is the fact that this school mum’s daughter Charlotte (Georgia Flood), is involved with Romeo and his cousin, Max (Blake Davis). Did I mention that Max is the result of an affair between Tim (Joel Tobeck) and Ally’s sister, Nat (Kat Stewart)? Tim and his wife Christine (Catherine McClements) are raising Max as their own, but boy, you wouldn’t know it half the time!
What we have are three families colliding, connected via a web of love, sex, money and politics – almost to the point of suffering from soap opera syndrome. The number of “Tangles” in question becomes almost TOO coincidental to really be believable at some points. But with characters this well written, that’s just part of the fun.
Edwards does like his archetypal characters and setups, and Tangle is full of them right from the outset: the uptight passive aggressive woman with control issues (Asher Keddie’s Julia Jackson in Love My Way versus Tangle’s Catherine McClements’ portrayal of Christine Williams); the heroine finding solace with her ex’s brothers (Brendan Cowell’s Tom Jackson in Love My Way versus Tangle’s Kick Gurry as Joe Kovac); a troubled born-out-of-wedlock child dealing with the concept of multiple parental figures and family units (Alex Cook’s Lou Jackson and Sam Parsonson’s Dylan Feingold in Love My Way versus Blake Davis’ Max Williams in Tangle); burgeoning teenage homosexuality (Dylan versus Max); the lingering effects of grief after a sudden death (Love My Way’s tragedy versus Tangle’s own dramatic death)… and that’s hardly the end of the list.
For many, this type of rehashing could be seen as little more than weak writing, a creative lull or even a quick cash-in by producers after the success of a break out hit (which Love My Way certainly was). However, it’s for this exact reason that I adore Tangle.
By “starting from scratch” with Tangle, the writers can continue to explore these deeply flawed, endlessly interesting characters without tainting the legacy of Love My Way. Yes, the stories of the Tangle universe could have VERY easily played out as Seasons 4 – 7 of Love My Way. But this “reboot” meant Love My Way couldn’t ever veer into the territory of “jumping the shark” or, more importantly, having its audience simply grow weary of the characters’ relentless, increasingly unlikely dramas.
It’s very clear the aforementioned situations have unfolded in the real lives of the writers. They pop up far to often in multiple shows for them not to have been based in experience. So, not only are viewers getting a voyeuristic peek at someone else’s’ dirty family laundry… we are also part of these writers’ decade-long cathartic therapy sessions as they try to come to terms with the guilt, pleasure and pain of the events in question. It’s all there on the page. It’s the ultimate fly on the wall experience if you are willing to join the dots and watch several TV shows as if they were one.
Tangle is also an impressive an achievement at the dialogue level. Aussies have quite an ear for our own voice, not simply for the literal sound… but the rhythms, the cadence, the intricacies of how words run together.
What may sound perfectly normal and award winningly insightful on paper almost NEVER translates when performed in an Aussie accent. Audiences subconsciously detect something’s not right between: “I love her” and “I love ‘ah”. On paper, it looks stupid and wrong, but it’s the difference between honest and believable portrayals of Australians onscreen and the kind of stilted, clumsy dialogue that leaves actors struggling (a perfect example of which can be seen in Tomorrow When The War Began. Excellent actors speaking words and rhythmic structures that young Aussies simply DO NOT speak in).
In this regard, producer John Edwards and the writers he employs, have been able to rise above the pack. It is no coincidence that Edwards has been behind the most highly regarded Aussie productions for over a decade, because he and his superb writing teams stick to a simple rule: understand the rhythms, understand the culture.
As usual, in Tangle the dialogue and performances are spot on. Everyone delivers here, their performances are nuanced and genuinely believable. These are people you have met; these are conversations you’ve had.
There’s a great ensemble cast in Tangle, but the real star is Ben Mendelsohn. Mendelsohn has long been a staple of Aussie productions (and most recently cracked into the USA with Animal Kingdom, The Dark Knight Rises and Killing Them Softly) but never have we been subjected to such a long-lasting dose of his skills as seen in Tangle.
As Vince Kovac, Mendelsohn owns every single scene of the show, even the ones he isn’t in. No matter what the situation, Vince’s sinister, threatening (and oddly charming) vibe exudes throughout every scene, infecting the lives of everyone in both direct and indirect ways.
As a performer, Mendelsohn takes the dialogue into unexpected territory. A fine example of this is towards the end of the last episode of the first season in which Matt Day’s Gabriel finally works up the courage to express his love publicly for Vince’s wife Ally. (Gabriel is everything Vince is not, and vice versa: Romance vs Lust, Brain vs Brawn.)
As Gabriel paces back and forth, spilling his guts melodramatically – Mendelsohn’s Vince sits silently, still, like a lion assessing his prey. He mutters silently, almost as if Gabriel hasn’t earned the respect to hear his words: “You snake in the grass… Me and Ally are bound in ways you can’t even imagine”. In the hands of anyone else a confrontation like this could end up as a fairly stock standard Home & Away level exchange – but Mendelsohn takes it to such a dark, deeply disturbing place. You can see the Tim Burtonesque spooky forest which consumes his mind through his unflinching eyes. It’s raw and gripping and utterly perfect.
Ultimately, why I adore Tangle is simple: it’s only a tiny part of a much bigger puzzle, a picture which will unveil itself in many forms and in many ways in coming years (assuming networks are smart enough to continue commissioning these productions). Tangle is simply a chapter in an ever growing, wonderfully nuanced John Edwards saga that I can only hope and pray continues to expand outwards like this strange old star-littered place we call the Universe. It doesn’t hold all the answers – it doesn’t even answer all the questions it raises – but just like the lives it depicts… not everything can have a neatly tailored beginning middle and end. All we can do is just acknowledge we are on a journey and – as Happy Gilmore teaches us – “play the ball as it lies”.
… Also, I really just want to be cast in a John Edwards show. Is that too much to ask? So make that happen AFI, that’d be swell.
Sean Lynch is a comedy writer/performer, film critic for various publications throughout Australia and Head Editor at WatchOutFor.com.au and WebWombat.com.au. He was one third of the Aria Nominated (Best Comedy Release, 2006) comedy trio The Shambles, a regular presenter on Channel Ten’s The Circle and most recently gave an Academy Award-worthy performance in his gripping portrayal of “Balloon Guy” in Working Dog’s Any Questions For Ben?. You can follow him on twitter @thatlynchyguy but don’t follow him on the tram or at the supermarket, unless you are offering to pay for his groceries or Myki fines.
Note: Tangle Season 3 is one of the four nominees for the AACTA Award for Best Television Drama Series, competing with Puberty Blues, Rake – Season 2 and Redfern Now. The winner will be announced at the 2nd AACTA Awards Ceremony on Wednesday 30 January, and broadcast on Network Ten at 9.30pm.
If you enjoyed this piece, you may like Why I Adore… Love My Way, by AFI | AACTA Editor Rochelle Siemienowicz.