Hawn shines in kidnap caper
Goldie Hawn is 71. That is hard to believe. As someone who remembers her from the mid1970s, with Warren Beatty (now 80!) in Shampoo and Chevy Chase in Foul Play, and for her Oscar-nominated salute soon after as a boot camp princess in Private Benjamin, it makes me feel my age. My younger colleagues like the weird Overboard (1987), opposite her now husband Kurt Russell. She is a sublime actress who needs no visa to cross and recross the border between comedy and drama.
She’s not the joker in Snatched, a comic adventure directed by Jonathan Levine. That’s Amy Schumer, and she pulls it off with aplomb. It’s great to see an American comedy where the best jokes are in the straight lines, not the punchlines. Here’s an example, one that also demonstrates the MA15+ rating: when Emily (Schumer) goes to a bar restroom and washes her nether region, the handsome bloke she’s just met, James (Tom Bateman), glimpses her doing it. Her explanation is direct and funny.
New York-based Emily is in a bar in Ecuador because she and her musician boyfriend had booked a holiday. He not only pulled out of it, but dropped her. So she has encouraged her cautious mother, Linda (Hawn), to join her.
We first see Linda at home, surrounded by male cats with names such as Andrew and Phillip. This, too, is droll. She’s wearing pyjama pants, a jumper and socks. She checks the locks.
She doesn’t want to go anywhere but is talked around after Emily finds an old photo album (tucked under the feline motif T-shirts) that shows how her mum used to be: bikini clad, raging at Thin Lizzy gigs, having fun.
“I can’t even believe that’s you,” Emily says. “You’re such a scaredy cat.’’
That judgment is put to the test when mother and daughter leave the resort and are kidnapped. And so age does come into it, in clever, humorous and sometimes pointed fashion.
The kidnappers demand $US100,000. The person they contact is Emily’s agoraphobic brother Jeffrey (a terrific Ike Barinholtz). He’s one of the unusual characters who take the story well beyond the kidnapping. He can’t speak Spanish but he is fluent in Klingon. He’s read all the Game of Thrones novels, which can be a powerful weapon. His dealings with the State Department have a ring of truth.
Other unexpected types include holidaying friends Ruth (Wanda Sykes) and Barb (Joan Cusack). Barb is ex-special operations, Ruth says. She must say it because Barb, Ruth says, cut out her own tongue on retirement, in the national interest. Whether this will come in useful (if any of it is true) is something time will tell.
Snatched is written by actress and comedian Katie Dippold, who wrote the all-girl Ghostbusters and the espionage comedy Spy, both starring Melissa McCarthy. She has said the script was based on her own relationship with her mother. The result is several IQ points above the typical American comedy. The central dramatic scene involves no bad guys, just a mother and daughter. Hawn knocks it out of the park.
This is Hawn’s first feature film since The Banger Sisters (2002), with Susan Sarandon and Geoffrey Rush. That was about two former groupies who reconnect in middle age. Whether the title of her new film has any double meaning is a question I will leave in peace. In any event, I hope it’s the start of a comeback. Whether she’s in her 30s ( Shampoo, Private Benjamin) or her 70s, Goldie Hawn is a star. “We were an average Australian middle-class family,” says Frannie Hopkirk, “into which God saw fit to throw a hand grenade.’’ That’s an acute description of Brett Whiteley by the sister who stuck with him until the end. If anything, it’s a bit understated. A hand grenade can do a lot of damage, but it explodes only once. Whiteley went off a lot throughout his short life, sometimes soaring, sometimes crashing.
Whiteley was made thanks to a Screen Australia program set up to support documentarymakers. It starts with a moment that shows its strengths and its weaknesses, which is sort of apt for a film about one of our most colourful and controversial artists, a man who seems to have been naive and wise.
It’s a Sotheby’s art auction in Sydney. Whiteley’s painting Opera House sells for a record $2.4 million. Well, it was a record in 2007. The more recent top price for one of his paintings is $3.9m, for My Armchair in 2013.
In this context it’s worth noting Whiteley was made on a budget of $1.7m. Its strength lies in Whiteley what the people were paying for at the auctions, even if most of us think it’s too much. Whiteley’s art was landmark, and remains important. The life the artist lived doesn’t change that. When this documentary considers the art and the artist, and blends the two into one complex life, it is at its best.
The same can be said for the recent biography of Whiteley by this newspaper’s arts editor, Ashleigh Wilson. His fine book, Art, Life and the Other Thing, and this film present a similar Whiteley, but there are also differences.
Wilson’s Whiteley is more nuanced, perhaps more flawed, than the one we see here, though we do hear about his problems with alcohol, drugs and unfaithfulness, including from himself at one point. Yet ultimately, both book and film rightly come back to the art and the geniusgrenade behind it.
The weakness of the documentary lies in the timing gaps — such as opening with a decadeold auction — and in the access to the subject, who died of a drug overdose in a motel on the NSW south coast in 1992, aged 52.
Whiteley is directed by James Bogle, who has made four feature films, including In the Winter Dark (1999), based on the Tim Winton novel. The screenwriter is Victor Gentile. Whiteley’s letters, notebooks and photographs, all provided by his former wife Wendy Whiteley, are used to tell the artist’s story “in his own words”.
The filmmakers also rely on clips and sound bites from television, film and radio. This does provide some wonderful moments, such as the tall, handsome young Robert Hughes sauntering around Whiteley’s studio, or an elderly, jovial Lloyd Rees talking about the colour white, but it is also a bit archival.
The documentary tries to put Whiteley’s whole life on one 90-minute canvas, from his Sydney boyhood to his early success in London and his wild time at the Chelsea Hotel in New York, to his more tranquil period in Fiji — until he was deported for drug possession — to his return to Sydney, to that motel room in Thirroul.
The weakest artistic aspect of the filling-in comes with the use of actors playing Brett and Wendy in re-creations of their life together, and in animated scenes that put photographs of Whiteley into Renaissance paintings and elsewhere. The one where his mother hits his father with a frying pan is borderline Monty Python. The interviews with Wendy are fascinating, but also not new.
When the real Brett Whiteley appears on screen, when we hear his real voice, it’s not new either, but it is close to riveting. He was not a large man but he had a dominating presence. His thoughts on art suggest that as great as he was at the “how” of it, he never mastered the “why’’ of it. At one point he talks about growing older, of facing his 40s and 50s, and he ponders the possibility of a god. “The further on it goes, the more mysterious it gets.’’ Sadly, he didn’t end up going that much further on.
Amy Schumer and Goldie Hawn in Snatched; below, Brett Whiteley in the documentary