Review of “Bran Nue Dae”

What’s most interesting — and what stays with you long after the credits roll, is the cultural and racial commentary simmering beneath the goofy, candy-colored surface. There is blatant racism (thanks to Father Benedictus), implicit racism, and institutional racism (things get very sober for a while when Willie and Tadpole find themselves in jail).

The film pokes fun at everyone, no matter his or her background, but while it’s kicking its proverbial heels, it’s clearly making noise of a different (and altogether more serious) kind.

Particularly important is the sole solemn dance scene — prompted by Willie and Tadpole’s jail stay in a rusty outdoor cell. Tadpole comforts Willie, who’s heard stories of Aboriginal people dying in prison.

Following this is a sober, dark dance number, incorporating traditional dance and dress, with a very clear, confrontational message about oppression. It’s powerful and thoroughly unexpected, given the goofy tone of the rest of the movie.

The cast absolutely makes Bran Nue Dae, which without astounding amounts of energy and raw talent, this sort of production would fall flat. Thankfully, everyone from the core group of road-trippers to the quickest of the cameos is spot-on.

Missy Higgins is wonderful as Annie, especially considering that this is her very first silver screen role. She spends much of the film in full-on hippy-dippy caricature, complete with Buddhist prayer beads and a love of skinny-dipping. In the hands of a lesser performer, Annie would be thoroughly annoying, but Higgins commits so completely to the role (and sings so beautifully) that it becomes impossible not to like her.

Also a newcomer to the screen, Mauboy absolutely tears it up as Rosie, with an astounding voice and stage presence. One wonders how she finished second on Australian Idol, with such obvious talent.

Worth a special mention is Ernie Dingo, who reprises his role as Uncle Tadpole from the original stage play. A famous performer in Australia, he’s completely lovable and hilarious as his mischievous and world-weary character.

It almost goes without saying that the soundtrack is absolutely fantastic. The songs are as colorful, bouncy, and genuinely soulful as the film is, with a few aforementioned forays into heavier material.

While the movie is very much targeted to an Australian audience (with plenty of Aussie slang, cultural references and in-jokes), the humor translates incredibly well for international viewers, a point that director Rachel Perkins was delighted to make when screening the premiere at Sundance this year. It’s a genuine hoot for all viewers who like to get their jazz hands on, no matter your background.

For lesbian/bi audiences, come for Missy Higgins, stay for the rip-roaring music and hilarious presentation. If nothing else, it’s sure to get us ready for next year’s full-on lesbian musical, Girltrash.

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