Why Did I Watch It? Missed it at MIFF a few years back, and have been keen to catch since.
Jackie is a music crazy young woman who dreams of being a New Wave starlet. She kills on open mic night at the local nightclub, but has bigger aspirations; fame and success, sure, but creative expression and personal freedom, most importantly. Her 14 year old cousin, Angus, wants to help, and is willing to skip school and don a bright red, full body kangaroo costume to get her there.
Gillian Armstrong’s second feature is a brightly coloured, energetically exuberant hat tip to the joys of pop music, and chasing your dreams. It is unashamedly optimistic. The year before, Anderson’s first feature, ‘My Brilliant Career’, had played at Cannes and been an acclaimed critical success, and you wonder if she wasn’t just feeling this herself: Go for it!
The film features a bunch of infectious, catchy songs. Paul Kelly and Tim Finn worked on the music; local legends, whose style of bittersweet yet upbeat pop perfectly matches the material. The film is structured like a musical, with staged numbers punctuating the drama, and these are among the highlights. Jackie’s first nightclub appearance is a sea of neon, that she turns into a synchronised dance routine; her arrival, on the back of a moped driven by Angus, in the kangaroo costume, is also amazing. Another standout is the raucous singalong Jackie inspires at the pub her family runs; dancing on the bar in a pair of purple sequined shorts, she revs up the excited punters till they spill out into the street (credit is due to the costume designers: Jackie’s outfits are relentlessly fab).
While these were my favourites, singling any of the musical numbers out almost feels unfair. ALL of them are great; so lively and colourful, they feel borderline shambolic, like organised chaos, which belies the effort that must have gone into their staging. The whole film has this appealingly ramshackle tone. The adult characters are only slightly less scatty than the youngsters; Jackie’s uncle (the great Max Cullen) runs the pub in his bathrobe, with a cocky on this shoulder, and a colourful cast of Aussie character actors make up the regulars. This reminded me of John Waters’ ‘Hairspray’, another film that managed to simultaneously satirise, and celebrate, a specific type of everyday life.
There are no villains in this movie. The producer/host of local TV talent show ‘Wow’, that Jackie sees as her ticket to success, comes closest; but even he is eventually shown to be just another music fan, caught up in the moment. While he tries to push a sappy ballad on Jackie for her moment in the spotlight, he also joins in with gusto when she sneaks her real band on stage and cuts loose. And this is how life should work; talent wins out, dreams can be realised, songs are flamboyant.
A pretty wonderful movie.
Note: Geoffrey Rush, in his first film, has a small role as ‘Floor Manager’. With big, boofy, John Travolta hair, he is mostly annoyed at the kids antics.