Bran Nue Dae

And Now…The Anti-Musical!


Starring: Rocky McKenzie, Geoffrey Rush

By Robert Patrick

Your friend, who has made some questionable recommendations in the past, tells you, very feverishly, that you need to go on a blind date. Your friend spits out words such as “mesmerizing” and “endearing” when he describes, in a fit of excitement, the person he is hooking you up with. You concede to this bonanza of enthusiasm, citing exhaustion, as you make plans to meet this allegedly exciting individual – you may, after all, end up having a good time on this date. That’s when it happens. You spend an hour and a half with the person, listen to your date talk about things they hate, then waste money on the evening. You wonder why everything you’re listening to sounds like white noise. Why did you agree to this blind date? Why did you sit through the evening, appeasing no one in particular, as you watched someone else have fun as you had none?

That’s sort of what watching “Bran Nue Dae” feels like. Clearly the film is having a good time, while you, on the other hand, are the one paying for the expensive dinner. Only the “friend” is the movie poster, chalked full of animated pull quotes and screen grabs, that initiates this night of horror and boredom. “Bran Nue Dae” is clueless and motivated, hapless and garrulous, glowing with both joy and wonderment. All of this sweetness is too gooey and coagulated to wade through. By the end of the film I felt like Artex in “The Neverending Story”.

“Bran Nue Dae” follows Willie (Rocky McKenzie), a young indigenous Australian boy, who, because of his mother’s wishes, gets sent to a religious school in the summer of 1965. At the school he is tormented by the iron rule of Father Benedictus (Geoffrey Rush); the pains of being away from his home in Broome; and his lack of contact with the girl of his dreams, Rosie (Jessica Mauboy). When Willie finally decides that he is done singing lazily written songs that outrage Father Benedictus, he resigns to the road, where he meets a motley crew of drifters, hippies, and, yes, even long lost family members. For being a musical, marionettes move more fluently than these actors. These cast members awkwardly flail, as if being caught in an invisible whirlwind, as they bump into each other and bounce off of inanimate objects.

The entire movie revolves around quirky songs and contrived serendipity. If you enjoy humor about hobos fixing car belts with dead rattlesnakes, you could enjoy director Rachel Perkins’ diluted road comedy. You should also be prepared for songs that have about as much harmony as a chirping smoke alarm. As a musical – especially one that saw fame in Australia – it confounds me to think that these songs come off as an afterthought. The melodies blip and dive, floating miserably throughout the movie, as the characters pluckily chant them as if they were Disney zealots. If someone asked me, in all seriousness, to loosely recite one lyric from the film, I would probably have a better chance at memorizing a difficult mathematical theorem.

And how about Geoffrey Rush as a German priest? Rush’s accent sounds like it was modeled after the “Hogan’s Heroes” sitcom. The heralded actor writhes and twists, waves his hands ecstatically, and makes poor jokes using chocolate bars as his punch lines. The whole production behaves as if it has an IV of saccharine hooked up to it, to which it would be fine if it weren’t so creepy. There is a feeling that Perkins, as a director, must have lost something in translation – otherwise I don’t understand how this loopy play ever worked in the first place.

The trip back home to Broome for Willie is full of life altering experiences. Unfortunately, none of them are worthy of being told through celluloid. I could flip through a book of carpet swatches and be more entertained. “Bran Nue Dae” is one of the worst films of the year. If this film had a test audience, they must have been sedated.


Author: Rob Patrick

The program director of the Olympia Film Society, Rob is also a former San Diego Film Critics Society member. He has written for The East County Californian, The Alpine Sun, The East County Herald, The San Diego Entertainer, and the San Diego Reader. When he isn't curating a film festival, he is drinking rosé out of a plastic cup in Seattle or getting tattoos from Jenn Champion.

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