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
(MA 15+) ★★ National release
✩✩ 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,