Will I, won’t I, will I, won’t I, has been running around my head over the last week since I saw the recent Australian movie Goddess. In the end I’ve decided, obviously, that I will – will, that is, write a post on it because I do like to raise a little awareness about Australia’s film industry.
Whether you like Goddess depends a bit, I think, on your expectations. If you expect a fun romcom you are likely to enjoy it. If, however, you expect a sociological analysis of celebrity culture in the 21st century, as I half-expected based on the line or two advance summary that I’d read, you may not like it. Fortunately for me, my expectations changed to the “right” ones in the opening scene. The film opens with an homage to the film version of The Sound of Music with our heroine standing, arms spread wide, on a high green hill surrounded by mountains in gorgeous Tasmania and ready, we think, to burst into song. She appears to think so too, except she suddenly spies her toddler twins, halfway down the hill, about to chomp into a cowpat … all thoughts of singing immediately fly out of her head and the film’s tone is established!
Goddess is both romcom and musical comedy. It was adapted from a stage play titled Sinksongs which was written and performed by Joanna Weinberg. The plot concerns a young couple – Elspeth and James – who have moved to Tasmania with their twin toddler sons so that James can follow his dream of protecting and researching whales. The couple have a deal. James will follow his dream until the boys start school, and then he will take over prime childcare while Elspeth has a go at her career which is singing. The trouble is that Elspeth finds life in rural Tasmania with demanding (albeit cute) toddlers and a mostly absent husband a harder “deal” than she’d expected. She receives no support from the local mums (played by comedian Corinne Grant, Pia Miranda,) who do not welcome her into their group. To assuage Elspeth’s loneliness, James buys her a webcam suggesting they can stay in contact that way. Unfortunately, probably due to poor reception out there in the southern Pacific (!), Elspeth can’t raise James but, she suddenly realises, she can put the webcam to another use. She can sing her life to a cybercrowd – and so begin her “sinksongs” performed, yep, from the kitchen sink. The inevitable happens of course. She becomes famous around the world. We see people everywhere tuning in to watch her sing, including, eventually, the local mums. I won’t detail the plot further as you can probably guess its course … one requiring her, in the end, to work out her fame-family priorities.
What makes this movie delightful is not the predictable plot (it is, after all, what it is) but the performances and the music, which ranges from pop to jazz to blues to country to tango. It’s all there as Elspeth is one talented young singing mum. Elspeth is played by someone unknown to me, the English actress Laura Michelle Kelly. She is, not surprisingly, more active in theatre than film. It’s a cliched thing to say, I know, but she lit up the screen with her expressive face, her warmth and her singing-dancing ability. She managed to hit just the right note between vamp and mum, between confidence and uncertainty. James is played sympathetically by Irish pop idol Ronan Keating. Australian comedian Magda Szubanskirelative newcomer Hugo Johnstone-Burt, from the Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries television series, convinced as her nervously keen but ultimately sensitive right-hand man.
The plot was a little forced in places and there was the odd slapstick moment that made me cringe. There were also picture-perfect shots of Sydney – the Bridge and the Opera House – that worked, I suppose, for immigrant Elspeth’s visit to the big smoke but that also seemed rather carefully placed to attract foreign audiences. These, though, were minor aberrations in a movie that saw us leaving the cinema smiling.
I seem to have been writing about romance more than usual lately, which is a bit weird as it’s not really my zone of interest, but I’m not sorry. A little break from the usual never does you any harm does it? If you’d like a change from your usual fare and Goddess comes to a theatre near you, give it a go. It may not be the best movie you see this year, but its joie de vivre is infectious.
Dir. Mark Lamprell
Prod. The Film Company and Wildheart Films, 2013