Directed by Cherie Nowlan. Australia. 2007. 108 mins.
Clubland, Cherie Nowlan's first film since Thank God He Met Lizzie in 1997 is a rambling but likeable movie which continues the Ozzie tradition of blending offbeat comedy and high melodrama, a campy feelgood cocktail familiar from Muriel's Wedding, Strictly Ballroom, The Adventures Of Priscilla et al. Featuring some genuinely touching moments and a tender grasp of teen sexual awakening, the film should find an appreciative audience especially in English-speaking territories, which is no doubt what Warner Independent Pictures was banking on when it paid over $4m for rights in North America and the UK among other markets at Sundance.
Although Clubland features two exciting performances from newcomers Khan Chittenden and Emma Booth, it is also, definitively, a movie built around the domineering presence of Brenda Blethyn.
Giving perhaps her shrillest performance to date, the English actress is sometimes overwhelming as the ultimate nightmare mother, and critics and audiences will like the movie, or not, depending on their taste for La Blethyn, who was evidently only practicing playing a selfish parent in Little Voice and Pride And Prejudice, before reaching her shrieking zenith here.
It could catch fire along the same lines as another Blethyn vehicle Saving Grace from 2000 which grossed over $12m in North America, and should easily outperform another Sundance alumnus On A Clear Day in which she also starred.
Blethyn is Jean Dwight, an English stand-up comedienne in the later stages of middle age who emigrated to Australia to marry a professional singer John (Frank Holden) 25 years earlier just as her UK career was taking off. As the film starts, she is still working the occasional club gig, trying to kickstart her bawdy comedy act after years raising her two sons - Tim (Chittenden), now a handsome young man in the process of launching his own removals company, and (cue obligatory disabled character) mentally challenged Mark (Wilson), whom she keeps at home at all times and smothers with affection.
John has left years ago, and Jean keeps a tight grip on her two sons, ensuring that their lives revolve around hers. Predictably when Tim meets Jill (Booth) and falls for her, the hard-drinking Jean is anything but thrilled, engaging in a war for his affections that will bring the family to breaking point.
The film is hardly densely plotted for its too-long 108 minutes, but Nowlan has a fine sense for the burgeoning romance between Tim and Jill and she depicts the sexual discovery of the two youngsters with a rare tenderness and frankness that give the drama more significance than it would have otherwise possessed.
Chittenden's transformation from mother's boy to his own man is seamless and, with his movie star looks and soulful blue eyes, he clearly has the potential to break out as the new Heath Ledger. Booth is another revelation as the insecure Jill; her wounded rage and struggle at both Tim and Jean is beautifully portrayed.
Although too big offstage, Blethyn's club routines are utterly believable, as are the trappings of the low-rent showbiz world she inhabits; she also closes the film belting out an impressive Nutbush City Limits with Holden - and why not'
Australian Film Finance Corporation
Warner Independent Pictures
Frankie J Holden