Director Stephan Elliott returns with a pastiche of ’70s nostalgia in the comedy flick Swinging Safari, an autobiographical effort set in a coastal Queensland suburb, that presents plenty of kitsch pop culture – and the occasional trauma – of his childhood.
With a promising opening montage that is as funny as it is relatable, the film’s intro celebrates all things camp, if not once cool, about the decade that taste forgot: from fondue nights to Funk & Wagnall encyclopedias, cask wine to Kandy soft drinks, nylon shorts to rough-and-ready Kingswood cars. Indeed, this is true-blue retro representation at its finest.
It’s a pity the fabulous aesthetics of the first half of the film dwindle into unfathomable political incorrectness by mid-movie.
The collective star talent, adorned in kitsch fashions that look part Target catalogue, part this-is-what-our-parents-actually-used-to-wear, makes for an impressive drawcard.
Kylie Minogue breaks stereotype as an introverted unhappy housewife, Kaye Hall, who turns to alcohol as a crutch (swilling it like cordial) and systematically pees on her daughter to relieve bluebottle stings.
Kaye resists the party animal pack mentality of her outlandish husband Keith (Guy Pearce, amusing – only just), and of her swinging, sexed-up friends Jo (Rhada Mitchell, surprisingly funny) and Rick Jones (Julian MacMahon, perfect caricature), hamming up the stereotype of the idealistic Jones-next-door.
The dialogue is spot-on old-school ocker with lines like ‘Get it in ya’ and ‘Bugger you’ bandied about freely, and Jeremy Sims is hilarious as Bob Marsh, a salesman spruiking K-Tel household products, often with the infamous ‘but wait, there’s more’ punchline.
The nostalgia is enhanced by sitcom-style scenes reminiscent of Paul Hogan’s lovable larrikin Leo Wanker, as the neighbourhood kids up the ante in wreaking havoc with their dangerous flame tricks, BMX stunts and explosive “cracker nights”. While the scenes are slapstick funny, they do leave you wondering the same line as the kids ask: “Where are the parents?”
The problem with all the incredulous cheeky kid stuff, along with the irresponsible parenting, is that after a while, the stereotypical behaviour becomes somewhat predictable and at times unsettlingly unpalatable. Such as when the parents manipulate their 14-year-old kids into adult consummation, almost as a party favour for the parents’ delight, and at the expense of their children’s happiness – all without any attempt at redemption. The sexist jokes, the uncalled-for abuse of youth, and the all-round irresponsibility presented for the sake of a cheap laugh just doesn’t quite work in a time when the world is trying to right a lot of its ridiculously traditionalist wrongs.
Sure, Swinging Safari might have been shot and edited before the #MeToo and #TimesUp campaigns took hold, but that doesn’t give it an excuse to use and discard delicate subjects and issues like used Kleenex tissues. If the film’s purpose is to present a retrospective of ‘what life was like back then’, and even if it was all sexist, misogynist and out-of-control back then, it should at least have introduced a character or two who defied that sexism, misogyny and futile nihilism. Surely not everyone was irresponsibly swingin’ in the ’70s. After all, this was only a short time after some of the world’s key human rights movements were kickstarted.
Director Elliott’s lack of subtlety, then, is possibly the main detriment of this film, which otherwise is rather funny in its irreverent larrikin-like delivery, and spot-on with its detailed mis-en-scene. If Elliott wasn’t afraid to develop a narrative with more depth, and present a couple of redeeming characters, his movies could reach next-level genius.
Stylistic props, iconic music, sumptuous fashions, pee jokes and “wankers” are always a formula to delight, but if Swinging Safari could swing into the depths of Priscilla by at least developing characters that are sympathetic rather than absolutely narcissistic, it’d be a far better film.
That said, if you want deep and meaningful from a movie, you might want to skip this. But for raucous antics and vivid aesthetics, you might just – just – enjoy it. Annette McCubbin
‘Swinging Safari’ is in cinemas now.