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A Heartbeat Away

Australia 2011
Directed by
Gale Edwards
91 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
1 stars

Heartbeat Away, A

Synopsis: In the coastal Queensland fishing town of Montague the local economy is on its knees and the (inexplicably wealthy) mayor (Colin Friels) wants to transform the town’s fortunes by turning it into a Gold Coast style resort.  Hindering his plans is a property owned by the local marching band run by Edwin Flack (William Zappa). Meanwhile Edwin’s teenage son, Kevin (Sebastian Gregory) fancies Mandy (Isabel Lucas), the mayor’s daughter. When Edwin gets knocked down by a truck Kevin has to step in and lead the band in their tilt at the Gold Cup or never see Mandy again.

It’s debatable whether first-time director Gale Edwards or first-time scriptwriter Julie Kincade should carry the greater load of ordure for this mind-bogglingly clunky film. What is not debatable is that Screen Australia and related film-funding bodies have dumped some $5m of taxpayers’ money into a very large plastic bag and thrown it into a skip without so much as a by-your-leave.

Did Edwards look at this film and say to herself “Yep, it works” or did she say “What have I done?”. It’s impossible to tell. The intention seems to have been to bypass all intellectual distractions and get straight onto the freeway to the populist heartland with an unabashedly crowd-pleasing addition to the bulging category of little Aussie battler films. There is nothing inherently wrong with this strategy which has given us such much treasured gems as Strictly Ballroom (1992) and The Castle (2001). A Heartbeat Away is not going to join that cheerful company although it may in years to come be regarded as a kitsch classic (the film’s ending, a ludicrous riot of feel-good clichés would make even the man who defined the heavy hand, Steven Spielberg, blush).

Apparently highly regarded as a theatre director, Edwards serves up a compendium of every trite cinematic device known to mainstream hackery whilst Julie Kincade’s script is a cut-and-paste of stereotypical characterization and plotting without a scintilla of dramatic conviction. And Guy Gross’s score is like musical stucco laid over this modular structure. That one feels impelled to ask if this is some kind of massively ill-conceived joke goes to show just how badly the makers have mis-handled the Brassed Off (1996) re-shoeing that they presumably had in mind. And Kurt Cobain would kill himself again if he ever saw what has been done to his iconic grunge anthem.

The cast, who we suppose were diligently doing what Edwards required of them, are, with the exception of Friels, consistently awful with Zappa, who seems to have been cast for his family resemblance to Pete Postlethwaite and nothing else, leading the way in mistaking shouting for acting. Any fancies on the part of the cast that this project would be a nice addition to their CVs have no doubt been well and truly abandoned by now.

Perhaps on television, cut up with ads for cleaning products and pet food, the Home And Away crowd might not notice the awfulness, but on a big screen with a decent sound system A Heartbeat Away is like being hit full frontal by a giant naked arse.




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