Hawn shines in kid­nap ca­per

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film Reviews -

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

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