Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Much bigger than it looks

This is how the Sydney Morning Herald reviewer Paul Byrnes describes the 2015 Australian film A Month of Sundays that has just been released in New Zealand. And after watching it this weekend, I couldn't agree more. It is much bigger than it looks, just as the 2008 star-studded epic of a film Australia might be described as much smaller than it looks. And size does matter, just not in the way we tend to imagine it does, at least not with respect to films.

And the Australian film industry used to make these deceptively big films, arguably better than any other country. But for some time now it has been making these deceptively small films, as epitomised by Australia, a film so deceptively small, it couldn't even come up with an original title and just borrowed it from the country instead.

There's nothing borrowed about A Month of Sundays. No country has ever been called that, indeed, nor likely ever will. As film titles go, it's not exactly catchy. But it is clever, playing on the expression meaning an unlikely occurrence, referencing the phone-call from the main character's dead mother that turns his life around, as well as referencing the slow, Sunday pace of the film and the weekend work of the house-selling business that he is in.

To be bigger than you look is to have more on the inside than on the out, a quality that could be said to be roughly the inverse of the ideal of modern masculinity as portrayed in mainstream films in and beyond Australia.

Until now.

A Month of Sundays is a clever and timely (as in better late than never) rethinking of the masculine ideal, not least because it allows women -- the wife and mother-figures in the film -- a constructive, even heroic role in their lives, rather than women always being blamed and punished for men's problems or 'saved' from their own feminine weaknesses by the heroic -- outwardly big -- man.

It's subtly done, rather than any clunky gender-role reversal (aka Mad Maxine), and in that way rings true and shows the sincerity of the writer-director Mathew Saville's intentions in making a film with brain and heart, rather than with those other body parts more often favoured in films by and about men.

It's also funny, not least because trans-Tasman satirist John Clarke plays a small but pivotal role as the leading man's boss. The sprinkler scene and call from Freud are particularly hilarious. My only criticism is that there's not enough of Clarke, and perhaps not enough humour, in the film, but I guess you can't have everything -- in a film, any more than in a man.

Still, it's five, deceptively small, stars from me.



  1. The Australian film industry has finally got its mojo back