One could almost call this film "the little film that could".
Made in a matter of weeks with just a Woody Allen-inspired clever
script, no money and a lot of passion, Love and Other
Catastrophes was the Australian cinema success story
of 1996. Lesbians and all.
After a dream run in Australian cinemas (I know I saw it five
times in one week, still a personal record) the film was chosen
for general competition at Cannes. Not bad for a little film whose
biggest names were Matt Day and Radha Mitchell, who used to star
in Australian soaps A Country Practice and Neighbours
respectively. Now Radha Mitchell (High
Art, Finding Neverland) and Frances
O'Connor (Mansfield Park, A.I)
have both gone on to make big budget Hollywood features, and it's
all because of this movie.
The story revolves around two housemates, Mia (Frances O'Connor)
and Alice (Alice Garner) who are attempting to find a new housemate,
change Uni departments, get to work, finish an honours thesis,
organise a housewarming party and juggle their respective love
lives, all in the space of one hectic day.
Mia is a spoiled-rotten drama queen used to getting her own way.
She has commitment issues which have prevented her inviting her
girlfriend Danni (Radha Mitchell) from moving in, a move which
would solve all their financial woes. Alice is faring little better.
She's struggling to finish a thesis entitled "Doris Day as
a Feminist Warrior" and spends most of the day ducking her
academic supervisor, wailing to the campus counsellor, trying
to do her barista job and working her way through a crush on Ari,
the "Warren Beatty of the campus".
Meanwhile, smalltown medical student Michael ditches his disgusting,
pothead housemates and attempts to find a new place to live. (Are
we seeing a theme?) He runs into Ari in the men's room who tells
him that Mia and Alice are searching for a housemate. Problem
is, he's shy, introverted and has a huge crush on the scatterbrained
Alice. Alice hits on Ari, unaware that not only is he the campus
lothario but he also rents himself out as a gigolo in his spare
time. All she wants is someone honest, left-handed and who likes
the same movies as she does. She's willing to compromise for a
shot with Ari, but of course it's Michael who is her perfect match.
Confused yet? It gets better. Mia is trying to change University
departments to follow a favourite lecturer and has, in her usual
style, left all her arrangements to the last minute. She's thwarted
at every turn by unpaid library fines, a self-absorbed, doughnut-scoffing,
heart-attack prone, head of department (comedian Kym Gyngell)
and her own deteriorating love-life. Danni, finally having had
enough of Mia's commitment issues, decides to break it off, forcing
Mia to re-examine her priorities, not just for the day but for
her life in general.
The events of the film culminate in the evening during Mia and
Alice's housewarming party where the two girls finally work through
their respective romantic issues with the hilarious help of Michael,
Ari, Danni and a houseful of beer-drinking, philosophising, pot-smoking
Comical to the point of farce and redefining "no-budget"
filmmaking, this movie is an irresistible charmer with a killer
Aussie soundtrack (which is pretty hard to find these days). O'Connor
and Mitchell showed what stars they were in the making and the
chemistry between them unexpectedly sizzles. All we get is a couple
of kisses (one of them incredibly hot) but then again that's all
we really see from the hetero couples as well. The film balances
its intertwining stories with ease and we never once feel cheated
by any of the various story outcomes.
Perhaps a little contrived and distracting are the super-8 sequences
that are tacked at the front and rear of the film, but they are
also quite fun, and a little experimentation has to be forgiven
when you consider the kind of restraints these filmmakers were
under. It also has to be said that the supporting cast is just
awful. Apart from the five main actors and some clever cameos,
the rest of the cast are obviously ring-ins, with film critic
Adrian Martin even providing a brief turn as himself, the object
of Mia's odd academic obsession. Alice's supervisor was played
by a random academic from Melbourne University who volunteered
for a couple of hours on camera. To be honest though, for once
I don't actually mind. It all just adds to the hilarity.
Love and Other Catastrophes is a testament to
the power of the idea. Just a few good scenes, some charming actors
and voila! A decent, quirky, urban film. If only they made more
of these instead of constantly trying to sell the Australian people
as a bunch of outback or brainless hicks the Australian film industry
might not be in such dire straits today.
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