'Bran Nue Dae': an over-the-top musical fantasy Down Under
"Bran Nue Dae," an Australian musical fantasy about a lovelorn aborigine teenager, is bouncy, bright and full of silly singalongs.
Special to The Seattle Times
'Bran Nue Dae,' with Rocky McKenzie, Jessica Mauboy, Ernie Dingo, Deborah Mailman, Tom Budge, Geoffrey Rush. Directed by Rachel Perkins, from a screenplay by Perkins, Reg Cribb and Jimmy Chi. 85 minutes. Rated PG-13 for sexual content and drug use. Metro.
It's not exactly "The Rocky Horror Picture Show," but this innocuous adaptation of a 1990 Australian stage production could gain a similar cult following — if only Down Under — as a musical satire that's bouncy, bright and full of silly singalongs.
Packed with Day-Glo cheer that butts against a subtext of racism, "Bran Nue Dae" is a fairy-tale fantasy that follows Willie (Rocky McKenzie), a lovelorn teenage aborigine, on a back-and-forth road trip from his native village to a Catholic school 3,000 miles away. He's leaving behind Rosie (Jessica Mauboy), an aspiring singer who's taken up with a rockabilly bad boy — which dumps salt on shy Willie's already tattered heart.
Little solace awaits; the school is a virtual reformatory for aboriginal boys, run with sadistic zeal by a fanatical German priest (Geoffrey Rush, affecting a goofy, guttural growl). Willie quickly escapes and, with Father Benedictus in pursuit, finds unexpected aid from a crotchety bum named Uncle Tadpole (Ernie Dingo), who may or may not be kin.
The setting is circa 1969, so it's no surprise in the movie's loopy logic that a pair of hippies in a VW microbus (Deborah Mailman and Tom Budge) help Willie and Tadpole on their bush-crossing journey home.
Key to the outlandish events is how characters constantly break into song, frequently accompanied by whimsical, Bollywood-style dance routines. The bright colors and vibrant backgrounds come from the eye and camera of Oscar-winning cinematographer Andrew Lesnie (the "Lord of the Rings" movies), and go a long way in distracting from shortcomings in the story and style of this offhand hybrid.
Still, it's hard not to get a feel-good feeling from a musical extravaganza whose showstopping number has the chorus lustily belting the line: "There's nothing I would rather be / Than to be an aborigine / And watch you take my precious land away!"
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