SHEER SILLI­NESS

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film - David Strat­ton

KATH & Kim has been one of the great suc­cess sto­ries of Aus­tralian tele­vi­sion in re­cent years. The foxy ladies from Foun­tain Lakes, Kath (Jane Turner) and her daugh­ter Kim (Gina Ri­ley), first ap­peared as char­ac­ters in sketches for the Chan­nel 7 com­edy pro­gram Fast For­ward in 1994, and segued into the very pop­u­lar ABC TV sit­com se­ries that be­gan in 2002; af­ter three sea­sons on the ABC the show moved to Chan­nel 7 in 2007, the first in the new se­ries achiev­ing a record au­di­ence rat­ing. As a re­sult the first cinema fea­ture spin-off (fol­low­ing a tele­movie, Da Kath & Kim Code, in 2005) looks like be­ing a gilt-edged suc­cess.

I must con­fess at the out­set that I’m not a fan. As I’ve noted be­fore, com­edy is dif­fi­cult to dis­cuss be­cause hu­mour means dif­fer­ent things to dif­fer­ent peo­ple; I love Lau­rel and Hardy but loathe the Three Stooges. I only watched part of one TV episode of Kath & Kim and de­cided it was not for me. The women are car­i­ca­tures of up­wardly mo­bile work­ing-class subur­ban women whose mis­pro­nun­ci­a­tions and mal­a­prop­isms, not to men­tion their dress sense, are the source of much of the sup­posed hu­mour. They’re con­trasted with the woe­fully snobby up­per-class Prue and Trude, also played by Turner and Ri­ley, Lib­eral vot­ers in con­trast to Kath and Kim’s pre­sumed La­bor sym­pa­thies.

Kath & Kimderella makes the mis­take of many a TV sit­com turned movie spin-off be­fore it; it takes its cen­tral char­ac­ters out of the com­fort of their subur­ban en­vi­ron­ment and plonks them in for­eign parts, pre­sum­ably hop­ing that what was funny in subur­ban Mel­bourne will be twice as funny in Italy. Or at least more cin­e­matic, and it cer­tainly is that, thanks to vet­eran David Parker’s Scope

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(MA 15+) ★★ Na­tional re­lease

(PG) ★★✩✩✩

✩✩ pho­tog­ra­phy of Nerola and the Amalfi coast near Posi­tano. Ac­tu­ally, the film isn’t set in the real Italy but in the fic­tional king­dom of Pa­pil­loma, a Span­ish-speak­ing en­clave lo­cated at the boot of the coun­try. In trav­el­ling there, K & K leave their men be­hind; Kim is hav­ing one of her spats with the in­ef­fec­tual Brett (Peter Row­sthorn) while Kath’s hus­band, Kel (Glenn Rob­bins), a butcher (‘‘Would you like me to take the skin off your breasts?’’) is afraid of fly­ing, so elects to stay be­hind. Their friend Sharon (Magda Szuban­ski), how­ever, is all too will­ing to in­dulge in a ro­man­tic Euro­pean hol­i­day and, by co­in­ci­dence, the odi­ous Prue and Trude are head­ing in the same di­rec­tion.

In Pa­pil­loma, the three women are ac­com­mo­dated at the cas­tle of King Javier, played with a nice sense of jaded so­phis­ti­ca­tion by Rob Sitch. The cas­tle turns out to be filled with ref­er­ences to fa­mous (pub­lic do­main) char­ac­ters and sit­u­a­tions; there’s a masked fig­ure, a mys­te­ri­ous per­son in a black cloak, a ser­vant girl (Jes­sica de Gouw) who wants to be a princess and even a mad woman in the tur­ret room — not to men­tion se­cret pas­sages. There’s also Richard E. Grant, play­ing Alain the but­ler, who mys­te­ri­ously speaks in rhyming cou­plets and who wears an ex­pres­sion of com­plete be­muse­ment. Even Dame Edna Ever­age makes a very brief, and quite in­con­se­quen­tial, ap­pear­ance (Barry Humphries is known to be a fan).

My prob­lem with all of this is the to­tal lack of sub­tlety. The char­ac­ters on screen rep­re­sent the broad­est of car­i­ca­tures, and though there are some amus­ing lines, they’re out­num­bered by the sheer silli­ness of it all. For many that will be all that’s re­quired — again, it’s that old ques­tion as to what con­sti­tutes ‘‘ funny’’. But I was puz­zled by all the gay ref­er­ences given to Szuban­ski’s Sharon, es­pe­cially in the light of the ac­tor’s re­cent com­ing out: Sharon is seen read­ing books by les­bian authors and, at one point, locked in the se­cret pas­sage, cries: ‘‘ Get me out of the closet!’’, and when she turns up at a fancy dress ball as the Cow­ardly Lion from The Wizard of Oz, she an­nounces: ‘‘ I’m a friend of Dorothy!’’ She’s not the only char­ac­ter with a gay an­gle: Prue and Trude at one point dis­cuss women for whom they would turn gay (they de­cide on Julie Bishop). There are ref­er­ences to global warm­ing, the car­bon tax and po­lit­i­cal lead­ers in­clud­ing Tony Ab­bott and Ju­lia Gil­lard; but it all adds up to not very much, de­spite the valiant ef­forts of Turner and Ri­ley — who also wrote the screen­play. Ted Emery’s di­rec­tion keeps things mov­ing along, but adds lit­tle to the mix.

There are a few sweetly silly mo­ments,

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