Ben (Josh Lawson) seems to have it all. He’s good looking, got a great high paying job in advertising, a busy social life and travels all over the world. He’s invited back to his former school to ‘inspire’ future students and meets Alex (Rachel Taylor) and begins to question what he’s doing with his life. Working Dog, for those living under a rock is the, quartet of Rob Sitch (Co-Writer/Director), Santo Cilauro (Co-Writer), Tom Gleisner (Co-Writer) and Jane Kennedy (Casting Director – and Rob’s wife). This is their much anticipated return to cinematic comedy a full 12 years after the release of The Dish and it’s there chosen topic is the ‘Quarter life crisis’. While talking to Sitch briefly as he attended the AACTA award, I asked him how/why they were approaching the quarter life crisis? He said (and I’ll paraphrase) that during their previous projects – specifically Hollowmen andThank God You’re Here – they were surrounded with mid twenties/early thirties youth, that from the outside appeared to be living the most fascinating interesting lives, yet seemed unfulfilled. They used the caveat of returning to school (which Rob emphasised is always a source for problems) as a good trigger for Ben’s existential crisis and I was staggered by how much they nailed it.
Sitch wants to immerse the audience in Ben’s world. Melbourne is portrayed a playground: stylish apartments, great nightspots, cool activities, and health/fitness. For the duration I kept asking myself, “hold on, why aren’t I living in Melbourne?” I was very impressed with Sitch’s evolved cinematic language. This is him stretching past the required ‘authentic’, drained colour, and ‘bodies in motion in tight spaces’ aesthetic of Frontline and Hollowmen.
The scripting is pitch perfect sharp and natural – it doesn’t sound like an older writer appropriating this experience. The Working Dog writing group’s collaboration feels so organic. This is searching, vulnerable, dramatic, comedy. You’re following a bunch of characters that are endearing, charming and ultimately likeable. It’s very easy to laugh at characters you like getting into situations that are excruciating to watch them in. This ensemble cast is phenomenal and I want to make sure that they all get their mention.
Sam (Lachie Hulme) is Ben’s mentor. Sam’s a successful night club owner and family man that, while dispensing sage wisdom also is baffled by Ben’s hesitation to own his amazing lifestyle. Hulme plays the blunt, blowhard Sam with a great balance of bravado and legitimate wisdom. He’s the voice of the older and wiser audience, and he’s the source of several of the laugh out loud moments of the flick.
The core group have an amazing chemistry, and are great emerging talent.
Andy (Christian Clarke) one of Ben’s two best mates, is a necessary ‘yes guy’ accomplice to their social and travel antics. He’s a totally sincere and blissfully ignorant, but caring friend, satisfied with their fun existence. He’s as subtle as a hammer and his presence stumbling through some key scenes made me laugh out loud in the cinema.
Emily (played by comedian Felicity Ward) is Ben’s best mate Nick’s (Daniel Henshall) girlfriend. Ben’s usually surrounded by agreeable bimbos; and Emily is a challenging, conscience for Ben and is integral to his growth for pointing out his hesitation. Ward’s a breath of fresh air, taking the piss out of Ben’s taste in women – she provides a perfect mockery of Ben’s behaviour that cuts him deep. She’s an authentic and interesting character actress in the making. Comedians don’t usually translate into filmic comedy, but Ward’s performance proves she’s one of the exceptions.
Nick (Daniel Henshall) has been along for the ride but has settled down with Emily and is a model for the contentment and happiness of the relationship. He plays the stable foil to Ben’s manic adventurousness and provides the rock for the Ben/Andy/Nick trio. For those of you who had only seen Henshall in his AACTA award winning performance playing serial killer John Bunting in Snowtown, his range will blow you away. This is a young guy to watch and I hope that we’re lucky enough to catch him in more soon.
And now we come to our leads. Alex (Rachel Taylor) is the perfect girl. She’s a beautiful a U.N ambassador whose drive, clarity and accomplishments are the catalyst for Ben’s crisis. Taylor is already making a splash overseas and this is my favourite performance of hers to date. Her character’s the ideal girl but Taylor brings an approachability and down to earth nature that’s necessary.
Last and certainly not least is the titular Ben (Josh Lawson) who plays a great comic sarcastic, confident, cocksure guy that’s ultimately feeling empty. He’s got a phenomenal timing and has the markings of a geeky kid that got the good looks late and still has humility. He’s that downtrodden charming comparable to Hugh Grant’s character in Four Weddings and a Funeral. He carries the film really well and is as sincere in comic, romantic and dramatic modes.
The direction and writing is what we’ve come to expect from Working Dog films. The cast is phenomenal and probably one of the best youthful ensembles in an Australian comedy in some time. It’s funny, sweet, moving, and romantic and I can’t wait to catch it again.
Co-Written and Directed by: Rob Sitch
Co-Written by: Tom Gleisner, Santo Cilauro
Starring: Josh Lawson, Rachael Taylor, Daniel Henshall, Felicity Ward, Lachy Hulme, Rob Carlton, Ed Kavalee, Jodie Gordon, Christian Clarke