Monday’s Muse… No Cultural Cringe!

You may have noticed a fortnight’s pause on the Monday’s Muse. Had a few things on my plate which I won’t bore you with, but I’m back up and running today with this new muse:

Australia beating the cultural cringe. Huzzah!

Sounds great huh? Oh, what’s that? You’ve got no idea what I’m talking about? Sorry, let me explain… This post celebrates a movie I saw recently on DVD (missed it at the movies), called Any Questions For Ben.

'Any Questions for Ben' screenshot
‘Any Questions for Ben’ is a decently entertaining rom com. But it’s the fact that it avoided the ‘cultural cringe’ that makes it my Monday’s Muse this week.
Screenshot from Roadshow Films and Working Dog Productions’ Any Questions for Ben, directed by Rob Sitch. Pictured: Josh Lawson.

What’s so special about this film?, you ask. Well nothing really, as far as plot, cinematography and script go. It’s an enjoyable, feel good rom com about 20-something year old Ben (Josh Lawson), a successful – if flighty – executive living the high life, who starts questioning everything after he fails to elicit a single question from the audience at a careers night speech. It got decent but not brilliant write ups from critics like the ABC’s Margaret and David.

Ironically, the thing I found inspirational about it was actually one of David’s criticisms. He says:

“This really is a sort of almost an Americanised Australian comedy. All those shots of Melbourne… could come out of any Hollywood film. All the songs on the soundtrack ditto. … and the situations are pretty universal too. Not that there’s anything wrong with that but from [production company] Working Dog I sort of hoped for something a little bit quirkier, a little bit more Aussie.”

To that I say, sure David, quirky and Aussie are great. I enjoy a good quirky Aussie film myself. My friends and I still quote The Castle, more than 10 years later. I loved Two Hands. Buuuuut I do sometimes find myself lamenting the fact that whenever Australians make films – or write books for that matter – they’re labelled “Australian films” or “Australian books”. Whereas if a film or book is set in the US or the UK, it’s just called a “book” or a “film”. And I think we sometimes miss out on showcasing to their full extent on the world stage the incredible talent of our Australian creatives, simply because people overseas see the label “Australian” and think “oh I wouldn’t identify with that”.

Crocodile Dundee screenshot
“That’s not a knife… THIS is a knife!”
Screenshot from Paramount Pictures and Rimfire Films’ Crocodile Dundee, directed by Peter Faiman. Pictured: Paul Hogan, Linda Kozlowski.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m very proud of my Aussie heritage. But sometimes I think it would be nice to see some more universal stories coming out of Australia as well, because let’s face it, we don’t all live in the bush and scour the classifieds in our spare time. We don’t all act, speak and think like Muriel or Crocodile Dundee. We have cities, and espressos and executives too. We have stories that could happen to anyone, that just happen to occur in Australia.

I would hate for Australian creative works to become American clones. But I don’t actually agree with David that Any Questions for Ben does that. The humour, the dialogue, the characters all still felt very Australian to me. They were just a different kind of Australian; a sophisticated, corporate, city-dwelling type of Australian. That’s what I found inspirational; the fact that it maintained its “Australian-ness” (yes, I did just make up a word) while also managing to be not an “Australian film”, but just a film set in Australia – created by and starring Australians.

~ DF

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