Susie Porter stars as a lesbian PI (A lesbian dick?) who takes on the case of a missing literature student (Abbie Cornish) and poetry nut. She meets with (and is immediately attracted to) the girl’s uni lecturer (Kelly McGillis), a married woman. Things become even more complicated once it becomes a murder investigation, with Porter busy satisfying her libido and McGillis becoming a possible murder suspect. Marton Csokas (completely unsubtle) plays McGillis’ husband, William Zappa is an arsehole cop, Jim Holt is an aggressively homophobic poet, Deborah Mailman is Porter’s bubbly best friend, John Noble is the dead girl’s grief-stricken father, and Chris Haywood is Porter’s dad. Lots of familiar faces (including Bojana Novakovic, Brendon Cowell, Gigi Edgley, and Annie Jones) fill out the background.
Released in 2000, this Samantha Lang (“The Idol”, “The Well”) directed, Anne Kennedy (the New Zealand film “Crush”) scripted adaptation of the Dorothy Porter novel is indicative of what I hate most about Australian cinema, especially from the mostly disastrous period between the late 90s and early 00s. Aussie filmmakers not only seem to be far too enamoured with literature and stage plays for my liking throughout the years, but Aussie filmmakers, particular at this time, had their heads up their arses. There was never any sense of commercial appeal outside of dopey ocker comedies (that were becoming beyond stale at this point), and instead countless arty-farty films were being released, and mostly rejected by audiences. Call me a sell-out, but films like this and “Somersault” (which shares Abbie Cornish among its cast, by the way) just did nothing for me. Eventually things picked up, and not just because we became better at making these arty-farty or serious-minded films (“The Black Balloon” and “Little Fish”, for instance are hardly what one might term popcorn entertainment but well-made and interesting films nonetheless), but because we actually started to branch out into what one might term ‘genre filmmaking’. It was as if Aussie filmmakers realised movies could be fun, too. Unfortunately, today is not the day to be talking about one of those films. For while this is, at the end of the day, a detective story, Samantha Lang and Anne Kennedy, in adapting the extraordinarily pretentious prose of Dorothy Porter, have conspired to make the most irritating, unappealing, and unbearably arty detective story of all-time.
Despite a lesbian main character, it can’t even be enjoyed as softcore erotica, either, because Susie Porter and (to a lesser extent) Kelly McGillis, aren’t an appealing pair of lovers (the latter looks OK for her age, however). They’ve taken the artiness of the project to such an extreme that even the lesbian sex scenes are really only able to be enjoyed by a niche market (i.e. Other lesbians). And how in the hell does plain-looking Susie Porter manage to get all of these sexy roles? This, “Feeling Sexy”, “Better than Sex”...I just don’t get the appeal. She’s always the same, performance-wise, too, no matter the role. And that’s a problem, because she’s meant to be a Blacktown girl here, and at no point does she seem anything other than a snooty, artsy North Shore gal with a pixie haircut.
The dialogue in this film is particularly appalling and pretentious. I understand the novel probably has its fans (not to mention a lot of people unhappily subjected to it at school or university), but those people and Lang and Kennedy need to understand that film and novels are two completely different mediums that aren’t always entirely compatible. This is especially the case with Porter’s novel, which is entirely written in poetic verse. Now imagine a transplant of such verse onto celluloid, and behold the horror. Oh, the horror! No one in this film talks like a real person. At least, I hope no one talks like a pretentious teenage feminist poet who has just discovered the ‘c’ word. Oh how characters here love using that word. I hate it. It’s the only swear word in the entire English language I’ve never used and hopefully never will, unless I am quoting (and I will be, in a minute). I love swearing, but that is an ugly and degrading word for what is actually a very beautiful part of the female anatomy. And yet, this female-directed, female-scripted (and authored), largely female acted film is flooded with uses of the word. Abbie Cornish’s ridiculously pretentious poetry readings and Susie Porter’s equally eye-rolling, uber-pretentious narration are the worst offenders here (The other ‘c’ word gets quite a workout too, by the way, with idiotic lines like ‘Even if your angry cock kills me’- WHAT???). Take this stupid bit of would-be poetry from Cornish: ‘You cut out my cunt, so why not cut out my heart? Your prick is a knife that hurts me. You grunt like a beautiful pig. I wish my cunt could hurt you’. Oh my God, that’s so deep! And profound! Except it’s not. I could handle the usage of the word in Tom Cruise’s monologues in “Magnolia”, because it reflected his character’s rather obvious issues. He was a tiny man acting like a big (misogynist) one. But why are these women using the word? ‘Coz they can, I guess. ‘Coz it’s taboo, and that’s like so artistic, man! Whatever. There’s nothing poetic or profound about it, it’s stupid and calls attention to itself to the point where the characters aren’t remotely real or identifiable. The film, much like the novel, is an exercise in self-indulgence at the expense of anything resembling entertainment. At least to me, at any rate.
Even worse, the film meanders along, with endless monologue scenes, uninteresting detours into the world of poetry, and a fair amount of sex...um, what about the murder-mystery? Yeah, not much attention being paid to that, I’m afraid, not when you can show a dumpy-looking Susie Porter walking around bottomless. Yes, bottomless, and it’s about as sexy as it sounds (And why bottomless? Just to be ‘cool and edgy’, of course. Ugh!). Of course if the film did pay more attention to its murder-mystery, said murder-mystery would be even more transparent than it already is. Porter’s character is an absolute dunce for not only getting distracted, but by not seeing the culprit immediately. Then again, she probably prefers poetry and snooty coffee houses to movies, so perhaps she hasn’t seen many murder-mystery flicks before. Meanwhile, McGillis is probably supposed to play her character as cool, unreadable, and intellectual, but she’s stiff as a board and uninteresting in the extreme, I’m afraid.
Oh well, at least one gets a good look at Sydney (and the Blue Mountains), throughout the film. Scenery and a bunch of familiar names and faces (Deborah Mailman the most interesting of the bunch) duth not a movie maketh, but they do make it slightly more bearable. Pseudo-intellectual, arty-farty crap.