The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film Reviews - Michael Bodey Twit­ter: @michael­bodey

Film and tele­vi­sion’s gain has been the­atre’s loss. Sydney play­wright Tony McNa­mara ap­peared to be fol­low­ing in David Wil­liamson’s foot­steps with his lik­able main­stage pro­duc­tions for the Sydney and Mel­bourne the­atre com­pa­nies and oth­ers in 1990s and 2000s.

The Cafe Latte Kid, The Vir­gin Mim and The Re­cruit sug­gested a ca­reer writ­ing for the stage was his for the ask­ing. But it soon be­came ap­par­ent the­atre was a happy di­ver­sion for the for­mer stock­bro­ker.

McNa­mara was ac­cepted into the Aus­tralian Film, Tele­vi­sion and Ra­dio School, and wrote and di­rected The Rage in Placid Lake, star­ring Ben Lee and Rose Byrne, in 2002. Then tele­vi­sion — in­clud­ing Love My Way, Tan­gle and Pu­berty Blues took him fur­ther away from the stage.

Film re­mains the itch he con­tin­ues to scratch. His lat­est film, Ashby, pre­miered ear­lier this year in the US and was re­leased qui­etly on dig­i­tal plat­forms this month. It is a pleas­ing de­vel­op­ment for the Syd­neysider, even if it is not quite the com­plete film he might have hoped to make.

Ashby has a bit of Harold and Maude about it be­yond the lead char­ac­ter’s name, which pre­sum­ably is a nod to the di­rec­tor of the 1971 clas­sic, Hal Ashby.

And it’s not a far-fetched com­pli­ment to sug­gest McNa­mara’s writ­ing has al­ways had a bit of Ashby about it: it’s dra­matic with an un­der­ly­ing wit and dark­ness. It’s a sub­tle bal­ance, though, and Ashby, like this film, mostly seemed to strug­gle to nail it.

McNa­mara’s film has a very ap­peal­ing cast, led by Mickey Rourke and in­clud­ing Sarah Sil­ver­man, Emma Roberts and Kevin Dunn.

Rourke plays Ashby, a for­mer CIA as­sas­sin whiling away his time, af­ter be­ing di­ag­nosed with a ter­mi­nal ill­ness, in the anonymity of un­named US sub­urb.

Un­for­tu­nately, Ashby’s teenage next-door neigh­bour, Ed (Nat Wolff), has a school project that in­volves talk­ing to an old per­son.

You can guess the rest: the griz­zled old guy warms to the awk­ward teen, and the teen helps Ashby right some wrongs from his own past.

McNa­mara’s di­a­logue and jokes are won­der­ful but his jum­ble of gen­res chips away at the film’s co­he­sion.

Ed’s de­meanour and his el­e­va­tion into the school foot­ball team are a lit­tle John Hughes, as are a num­ber of sup­port­ing per­for­mances, in­clud­ing Ed’s teacher Eloise (Roberts) and Sil­ver­man as his mum.

But Rourke, the crime com­edy and Ashby’s ret­ri­bu­tion are not part of the project’s Hughes-themed as­pects.

A joke for­gives all in DVD Let­ter­box’s world, though, and McNa­mara has more than enough in this un­even film.

Hope­fully he’ll get more cracks at cin­ema, and his films will get bet­ter.

Nonethe­less, it’s the­atre’s loss.

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