Life and times of a Sunnyboy
DIRECTOR Kaye Harrison’s documentary The Sunnyboy shows mental illness hasn’t extinguished singer, songwriter, guitarist and painter Jeremy Oxley’s undeniable charisma.
That charisma helped Oxley stand out from the musical pack as the young frontman of great 1980s Australian band, Sunnyboys. It now makes him a compelling and inspirational subject.
Harrison challenges the stigma associated with schizophrenia by sharing Oxley’s lived experience of mental illness. The results serve as a testament to the healing powers of music and companionship.
Oxley was diagnosed with schizophrenia, a condition not usually associated with hope and positive outcomes, in 1984.
He self-medicated with alcohol binges for years, but turned a corner five years ago when he met Mary Griffiths through mutual friends. The couple married in 2011. Griffiths, a nurse, worked with Oxley and his doctors to find the right formula to manage his health issues.
Harrison’s film charts Oxley’s return to the fold on several fronts – health, family and music.
The healing influence his wife had on his health may be at the film’s heart, but
The Sunnyboy does not suggest love cures all. Instead, it shows how treatment and a loving environment helped Oxley accept – or at least manage – diagnosis and treatment.
The film hints at, rather than dwells on, the dark stuff. Scenes revealing Oxley’s pain, his family’s despair and obstacles encountered by his wife are punctuated by belly laughs and pearlers, deliberate and accidental, which fall from the lips of Oxley at his whip-smart best.
Harrison never demonises schizophrenia, and this is one reason
The Sunnyboy is so important. It may help turn the tide as Oxley’s story encourages others living with the condition to share their experiences.
Fans of the band Sunnyboys will find this film essential, rewarding viewing.
Two years in the making, it premiered at the Sydney Opera House in June as part of Vivid Festival, screened at the Sydney and Melbourne International Film Festivals and played for a new generation of fans as part of the Forum program at Splendour in the Grass.
Anchored by Oxley’s charisma, Harrison hopes the film helps people better understand schizophrenia and boosts the self-esteem of those living with mental illness.
The Sunnyboy screens tomorrow and Saturday at 6.30pm and 9pm and August 24 at 6.30pm and 9pm at Birch Carroll & Coyle, Coolangatta. Call 5536 9300 or book online. The Sunnyboy also screens at Star Court, Lismore, on Sunday and August 23.
Jeremy Oxley with his wife, Mary Griffiths Oxley (above) and with director Kaye Harrison (left).