Dir: Jeff Balsmeyer. Australia. 2003. 100mins.
Welsh actor Rhys Ifans created the abiding comic movie image of 1999 as Spike in Roger Michell's Notting Hill: the shaggy, skinny flatmate-from-Hell merrily posed in his underpants for photographers outside Hugh Grant's London pad. Unpredictably Ifans emerges here as a glamorously handsome Australian Prince Charming, slaying Miranda Otto just as surely as Hugh conquered Julia Roberts in London. This highly unlikely transformation is central to the feel-good, fairy-tale quality of Danny Deckchair, a pleasantly assured romantic feature from first-time writer/director Balsmeyer. The first homegrown indie feature from producer Andrew Mason, behind some of the biggest offshore shoots in Australia in recent years, it also sees Otto build on her newly-won Lord Of The Rings reputation. Twentieth Century Fox is targeting Danny Deckchair at true blue Australians, when it opens there on a broad 185 screens on 31 July, but the film's life-changing message has the potential to break out internationally. Cobalt Media Group, is handling sales for most of the world: Lions Gate has already bought US rights from Crusader Entertainment.
The film opens on Danny Morgan (Ifans), a gormless, accident-prone city builder who has just fallen into a vat of wet cement. Meanwhile his estate agent girlfriend, Trudy (sparky Clarke), making a play for her handsome client, minor TV sports commentator Sandy Upman (Muldoon), cancels her camping holiday with him. With time on his hands, Danny dreams, sulks, nearly falls through the ceiling and, at a well observed suburban barbecue, attaches thick-skinned helium-filled balloons to a lightweight, plastic-covered deck chair. In a suitably fantastic and frightening effects sequence, it rises into the skies over Sydney and heads inland.
Danny is eventually bought down by a skyrocket, part of celebrations for the local Macadamia Nut Festival. He comes crashing down in Clarence, a lush semi-tropical country town, right in the beautiful back garden of unhappy parking cop Glenda (Otto). Danny decides to style himself as "Professor Daniels", Glenda's former university lecturer, and the two form an uneasy alliance while Danny reinvents his personality in this new, friendly community. Before long he (thankfully) shaves off his beard, borrows a suit to lead the dancing at the festival ball, addresses a town election meeting and rekindles Glenda's banked-up fires.
Back in Sydney Trudy has become an overnight media star, making overwrought TV appeals for Danny's return which, fortunately for the plot, do not include any photographs of her missing partner.
All this is lightly, wittily observed by the American-born, Sydney-based Balsmeyer, and charmingly played by his three leads and a very large supporting cast. The country locations are superb and overall production values are high. Miranda Otto is deliciously aloof, while the production feels as if producer Mason has taken every opportunity to kick up his comedy heels between his key role in this year's two Matrix sequels.
Although it remains easier to accept Ifans as the zany, falling-over loser at the start rather than the stylish, born-again intellectual, his transforming journey is always seen as a fabulous over-the-rainbow adventure which is never to be taken too seriously. And his suburban Sydney accent is flawless.
Prod co: City Productions
Aust/NZ dist: 20th Century Fox
Int'l sales: Crusader Entertainment (North Am), Cobalt Media Group (RoW)
Exec prods: Howard Baldwin, Karen Baldwin, Bill Immerman
Prod: Andrew Mason
Cinematography: Martin McGrath
Prod des: Kim Buddee
Ed: Suresh Ayyar
Music: Plan 9
Main cast: Rhys Ifans, Miranda Otto, Justine Clarke, Rhys Muldoon