Directed by Shirley Barrett. Starring Miranda Otto, Rebecca Firth, George Shevtsov, John Alansu, Jessica Napier. (1996, R, 92 min.)
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Sept. 19, 1997
Love and loss and floundering about in search of happiness in the tiny town of Sunray, Australia. Barrett's feature debut is an oddball melange of off-kilter comedy and genuine charm, with a hint of magical realism. Somehow it all works and holds together, but viewers may find themselves scratching their heads in muted wonderment from time to time. Otto and Firth play Dimity and Vicki-Ann Hurley, a pair of twentysomething sisters living out a stifling, bleak existence in the dry, dusty hamlet of Sunray, near Brisbane. Dimity is a fidgety, flat-chested tomboy, given to long rides on her battered bicycle when not taking orders at the local Chinese restaurant. Vicki-Ann, on the other hand, is perpetually on the hunt for a reputable boyfriend; alas, the pickings, in Sunray, are lamentably slim. Into these two lives comes the reptilian Ken Sherry (Shevtsov), a down-on-his-luck radio jock who takes up residence next door to the Hurleys and proceeds to woo them both, setting the stage for Barrett's humorous take on life, love (and the insurmountable need for same), and fish. Barrett (who also wrote the script) does a marvelous job of it all. Both the terribly shy and geeky Dimity and her more boisterous sister are cut from the cloth of modern women, content to pass the days with each other until the mysterious stranger in his faded denim and cowboy boots arrives. They simultaneously bolt hellbent-for-romance once a possible option rears its head. It's Dimity who discovers that Sherry may not be all he seems, though by that time she's already handed over her virginity to the man (in the wake of a maddeningly slow striptease that's at once painful and downright hysterical). Her warnings to her lovestruck (and admittedly jealous) sister go unheeded, though. Before you know it, someone has climbed the side of one of Sunray's mammoth silos, and tragedy looms. “Peculiar” may be the only apt description of Love Serenade as a whole. Like many other films from Down Under these days (Sweetie leaps to mind), the cloistered world of the Hurley sibs is a surreal twilight zone of mixed emotions, filled with garish, Kmart clothes in Vicki-Ann's half and sack-like sweatshirts (with matching sensibilities) in Dimity's. It's never a smooth ride to true love, but Barrett and her remarkable cast certainly make it an interesting one.