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Tag Archives: Brendan Cowell

I Love You Too

I was one of the privileged hundreds to get free tickets to Limelight Cinemas‘ preview of I Love You Too, with writer Peter Helliar in attendance. After some inane and worthless chatter from morning radio hosts Scotty and Nige, who ‘interviewed’ the rather more intelligent Peter Helliar, this unfortunate train-wreck of a film was underway. Perhaps ‘train-wreck’ is a little harsh; I think this film is more like a series of minor derailments, causing some mayhem on the commute to great Australian cinema.

The plot, although a little cliche, is nonetheless engaging, following the story of Jim, a commitment-phobic man in his early thirties who is threatened with losing his girlfriend. It suffers, however, from that age-old scourge of the comedian-writer; being interspersed with one-liners, which may be hilarious at the time, but seriously interrupt the progression of the plot. It is a problem that may have been resolved, had the writer been an unknown, but perhaps there wasn’t a dramaturge available who could confront Peter Helliar with the awful truth that some of these one-liners should have been ditched to protect the integrity of the narrative arc.

Admirable performances from Brendan Cowell, Yvonne Strahovski, Peter Dinklage and even Peter Helliar himself (who struggled to keep a straight face at times) couldn’t save the compromised script.

Australian film went through a period of producing only one genre of film. It was a cross between comedy and drama that worked very well for the period we were in, but our industry has matured, and our films are now more complex, influenced by a wider range of international cinema, and reflecting a more diverse Australia. I Love You Too does none of this. It harks back to a naive and self-centred Australia from sometime in the 1990s. It has some redeeming qualities, most notably its engaging plot, but it just doesn’t come together as a unified work, and is sorely disappointing.

 

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Ruben Guthrie

I want to charge Brendan Cowell with writing a masterpiece in Ruben Guthrie, but I fear that would undermine the intense humanity of this work. This is Australian playwriting at its best, exploring Australian society with no sense of cultural cringe, and no sense of being old fashioned or quaint.
The promotional material for Ruben Guthrie repeatedly asks whether it is unAustralian to refuse a drink, but whether it is Australian or not is not really a concern for the central character, who you might have guessed is called Ruben Guthrie. His main concern is staying sober, not only within a nation that loves a drink, but within an industry where alcohol consumption is a selection criterion, and within a family with a strong love of the bottle. Brendan Cowell has dealt with his story’s heady themes with a deft hand, plenty of humour, and stoicly (and wisely) refuses to answer the marketers’ question.
What I found most remarkable about this play was the way in which Cowell has managed to show the fundamental failings of social programs that seek to address addictions or compulsions (such as AA’s famous twelve steps), while also showing their effectiveness.
I recall reading some time ago Neil Armfield saying something about theatre being “necessary”. The terminology has stuck with me, because many people see the arts as an optional extra, something to make life enjoyable, rather than a crucial building block of a healthy society. Ruben Guthrie eloquently articulates the reason why the arts, and especially the narrative arts, are necessary to a society, and in the process, it also highlights the inadequacies of the social work profession.
But that doesn’t make it any less funny. In fact, it is yet another example of that spectacular Australian creation: the play that is, at once, both drama and comedy.
 
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Posted by on Sunday, 24 May 2009 in Belvoir, Sydney Theatre, Theatre

 

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