Friday, 10 February 2012

Any Questions for Ben? (2012)

Melbourne made, replete with the scenery porn showing off this city through a local's eye, Any Questions for Ben is the first film by Working Dog since 'The Dish' twelve years ago. Would the franchise continue their success where they left off?

My first impression of this film is the fact that it's just so risky. Our protagonist is Ben (Josh Lawson), an anti-hero who never commits any great crime, and perhaps his worst treachery is against himself, yet he lives a life of luxury. How are we, the audience, to feel about him? Those who don't warm to this film will most likely do so for their inability to care about a character who sleeps with models and tennis stars and complains about his life. How do you care about a man going through a mid-life crisis at age 27? Hopefully the humour, some cheap and some clever, will pull you through that dilemma and, like me, you will come to care about the storyline.

What we're left with is essentially Four Weddings and a Funeral with some character alterations. The floppy-haired Englishman becomes a fickle hot-shot Australian; the glamourous American becomes a world-saving UN human rights lawyer. Partly because of this, it is very easily to dislike this film, to resent the lead, and to feel the comically-missing-the-point gags are overplayed. But there is a good film behind these potential--potential--flaws. It's a huge improvement on the typical rom-com plot whereby both romantic leads must realise one is actually in love with the other, and both must do so at the same time. Instead, Alexis is off saving the world, is mostly physically absent but returns to Melbourne for 20 minutes at a time now and then. Ben is indecisive and childish, is emotionally absent, but has sudden bursts of being a grown-up, which wear off after about... 20 minutes. Will they ever be in the same place, physically and emotionally, at the same time? This depth of character (highlighted by the magnificent acting of Rachael Taylor) updates a tired genre.

The music, upbeat and catchy with lots of Australian acts contributing, would be an asset but is used far too often, saturating every major plot point and undermining the very mood it tries to compliment. The moral of 'choosing the one' gets pushed sideways as a genuine second option is never presented without being killed off by Emily's (Felicity Ward) razor-sharp sarcasm. Perhaps Ben receiving too much advice compounds the problem; the story has somewhat of an ambiguous moral. Great to see Melbourne through a local's eye (mostly) and some genuine belly laughs at times. It's very easy to dislike this film if it doesn't work for you, and it may not, but a charming piece of cinema if it does.

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