Ben behaving badly
AFTER creating two of the finest mainstream features ever produced in Australia – The Castle ( 1997) and The Dish ( 2000) – the uber- talented Working Dog team conspicuously sat out the first decade of the new filmmaking millennium.
Now they have returned with a new romantic comedy, Any Questions for Ben?
As much as I hate to say it as an unequivocal fan of the Working Dog effect, the return is not quite the cause for celebration many will have hoped.
The first thing that strikes you about Any Questions for Ben? is its aggressive pursuit of an urbane, sophisticated vibe that Australian comedies have traditionally shunned. In spite of some pacing and scripting problems, the film’s contemporary line of attack with its humour is an unqualified success.
When it comes to the all- important issue of relating to the title character, however, the appeal of the material is more unfocused than universal.
At the age of 27, Ben ( played by Josh Lawson) is going through what he calls ‘‘ a quarter- life crisis’’.
Our first impressions of Ben also turn out to be lasting ones. For much of this slender tale, he is a self- absorbed swinging single living the inner- city dream to the hilt.
Though rattled by an ill- fated appearance at a careers night at his old school – where the students were openly disinterested in his sputtering spiel about life as a product brand manager – Ben is at a loss as to how to change his ways.
And so, even as he is plagued by intense pangs of ‘‘ is that all there is?’’ doubt, Benny Boy keeps swaggering from lover to lover ( a Russian tennis star, a model) and social function to social function ( the Australian Open, the Melbourne Cup) as before.
If this is a journey to enlightenment, one can only assume the map was seriously misplaced at some point during the scripting process.
The lack of an emphatic point to the movie leaves Lawson somewhat exposed as a leading man.
When the going is good, he is able to turn on the self- deprecating charm.
Whenever the story keeps doubling back upon itself, a certain air of self- satisfied smarm creeps into Lawson’s performance.
The core strengths of Any Questions for Ben? can be found as you move further down the cast list.
Tasmania’s own Rachael Taylor ( as the international aid worker who may one day come to Ben’s romantic rescue) exudes a warmth and assurance that instantly snaps Lawson out of his funk in their scenes together.
It is a shame she is missing in action for lengthy spells in the picture.
Supporting players such as Ed Kavalee, Lachy Hulme, Felicity Ward and Alan Brough also capitalise brilliantly on small, but very amusing roles that capture the intended essence of the film. Now showing Village Cinemas