By Mandy Griffiths
“Quarter life crisis” entered mainstream vernacular back in 2004 with “Garden State”, starring Zach Braff and Natalie Portman, but it can in fact be dated way back to the 1967 classic “The Graduate”.
Working Dog, responsible for Australian classics “The Castle” and “The Dish”, make a habit of capturing the quintessential nature of a, let’s face it, a pretty odd country (Exhibit A – In 1954, Bob Hawke was immortalized by the Guinness Book of Records for sculling 2.5 pints of beer in 11 seconds. Bob later became the Prime Minister of Australia). “Any Questions for Ben?”, their first outing in more than ten years will, at first glance, appear quite a departure from this theme, in that it is about an inner city 27 year old successful male going through this quarter life crisis. But it’s not a complete departure. Not really.
Ben (Josh Lawson) has it all. He’s ticked them, every teenage boy’s career check list – high paying and glamorous job in which he often works with models/international tennis stars/just plain hot female colleagues. He and his two best friends live in the ultimate bachelor pad, and go to the hottest parties. He is never without female company, despite the fact he has never dated a girl for more than three months. When he is asked to speak at a School Career night, he is rocked when no one is interested in his life’s work. Turns out the teenagers aren’t actually impressed.
The Good: The Dad who gives his son his best attempt at “life advice” in a caravan, the mentor who thinks all of life’s problems can be solved by driving around in a sports car, the High School Principal (director Rob Sitch in a hilarious cameo), who just can’t get over the fact that Ben didn’t keep playing cricket. These are the less obvious but quintessential moments that maintain the flavour of other Working Dog productions.
The acting performances are all stellar, with a stand out being Rachael Taylor, the love interest Alex. She could have easily suffered from “Dream Girl” syndrome – she’s beautiful, nice, works for the UN, has meetings with the Prime Minister etc, but Taylor provides a real depth and relatability that makes her very endearing, and believable as the girl that would shake up Ben’s world.
The film also achieves what many romantic comedies don’t: It’s funny. While not everything works smoothly on screen, the wit and dialogue are rapid, and there are genuine laugh out loud moments. What could have been incredibly clichéd is almost always circumvented in some small way, and the end credits provide some of the best material.
The Bad: This film could easily have been half an hour shorter, and I can tell you exactly what should have been cut – the music montages. There’s so many of them! And the first way to date a film before it even hits DVD is to play Australian mainstream music that was popular maybe three years ago. Ben also seems to struggle for too long with his quarter life crisis before he actually does anything about it. There is only so many times you can hear a character talk about changing his life without actually doing anything that you want to just shake him and say “Man up and change or just embrace your empty existence, I’m getting hungry .” Or maybe that’s me, and I should have picked up some popcorn before the screening.
The Ugly: There is no ugly, Melbourne is the most beautiful city in the world*.
*It’s not, but I live in Melbourne and I like seeing it on screen. Stay tuned for my upcoming tourism campaign: Melbourne, totally the New York of the Southern Hemisphere. With lots of sports.
It’s fantastic to see Australian cinema attempt such a genre, and even better to see it can be done just as well, if not better than our US counterparts. It’s an uplifting and fun film, go see it. Likely to end up on many ‘Best Australian films of 2012’ lists at the end of the year.