Thursday, November 1, 2007

HC: Introducing the Dwights

Happy November! The year is zipping by, the big holidays are coming up. Lots of DVDs will be released. Although Introducing the Dwights received many favorable reviews, this indie from down under may have been under your movie-going radar. (There's no DVD release date yet.)

Originally called Clubland, as it is still known in its native Australia, this (dys)functional family drama/comedy stars the twice Oscar-nominated British actress Brenda Blethyn and a bunch of newcomers, all of whom are wonderful.

Blethyn plays Jean Dwight, an English, divorced mother living in Australia with her two just-out-of-their-teens sons. A promising comedian at one time—pictures of her in the 1970s with Benny Hill, Morecambe and Wise, and other headliners line the wall of her house—she still plugs away doing stand-up comedy, awaiting her big break. Both sons live at home, and Jeanie can’t help (s)mothering them. Younger son Tim’s moving van business was cofinanced by his mom. He’s also her chauffeur to gigs, and coprimary caregiver to his older brother, Mark, who was brain damaged at birth but, as reviewer Carina Chocano, LA Times, pointed out, “he’s wittier than Noel Coward on his third martini.”

Conflicts abound, with everyone wanting something and someone else being in the way—Jean wants to return to the glamorous, almost successful show biz life she was embarked upon before becoming a mom. Tim wants to move on with his life with his new girlfriend Jill. Mark wants to have the maximum amount of independence he can. Tim's new girlfriend Jill just doesn’t want to be steam-rolled by Jean. Nothing earthshaking here in terms of story, but the film has a huge heart, is frequently very funny, and has some realistically portrayed uncomfortable attempts at sex.

I mentioned good reviews, and there were many. In the interest of fair play, Jason Clark, Slant Magazine, says, “Shrieking like a banshee has unfortunately become Brenda Blethyn’s stock in trade ever since her remarkable breakout performance in Mike Leigh’s Secrets & Lies over 10 years ago. And now those who love to watch her boozily wobble in and out of rooms have ample opportunity to do so in this shrill, TV-lite Aussie picture that plays like a cinematic version of unstable menopause.” I can’t totally argue with Clark, especially because I do enjoy watching Blethyn “boozily wobble.” And she boozily wobbles better than anyone. (Closely followed by Michael Caine. Just watch them dancing together in Little Voice.) Yes, Brenda as Jean does a pretty good banshee impression as this overprotective, overbearing mother. The character is also an incredibly persistent dynamo of a woman. Not only does she do stand-up comedy in the evenings, she also works the early morning shift in a diner, and is a talent coach. There’s a lot to be said for Jean, who is desperately trying to hold her family together while plugging away with her no-longer topical stage act.

This film surprised me because in addition to caring about the middle-aged mother-of-two character (say! I’m a middle-aged mother-of-two too), I also really cared about and related to the Tim character and his girlfriend. They meet cute when he is hired to help Jill and her roommate move. He’s instantly smitten, and I think most of the audience is, too. Played by Emma Booth, Jill is pretty and awkward and real. She misconstrues much of what Tim is going through, and is convinced everything—from her too-small breasts to Tim’s nervousness around sex—is her fault. Tim is played by Khan Chittenden, who manages to be nerdy, sexy, downtrodden, and strong at the same time. It helps that the character is a nice guy, drawn to his outgoing new girlfriend but never wanting to hurt his mother.

I like movies that deal with the grays. No one is bad in Introducing the Dwights. No one means to hurt anyone. Everyone is trying to do their best. Jean frequently does the wrong thing, or lashes out, but her character is so well developed, and played by Blethyn, that it’s hard not to see her side. More than once will you cringe watching Jean unravelling and making a fool of herself. Blethyn never loses sight, however, of the hard working, devoted mom. She gave up so much to raise her sons. She works so hard at three jobs. Now her sons are grown up and no longer need her. That’s a lot for anybody to deal with. Blethyn’s strongest asset as an actor is helping us see the extraordinary in the ordinary everyday people she plays. In this film, she has great assistance from not only the supporting cast, but also the charming script by Keith Thompson, and the direction of Cherie Nowlan.

No buildings explode. No guns are shot. No countries are invaded. I’m not sure if there’s a special effect in the film. Introducing the Dwights is about flawed humans, just trying to get through the day. These may be the people who live next door that you've never gotten around to talking to.

Cliché alert: I laughed, I cried, I loved it.

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