Paper Champions

(Jo-Anne Brechin, Australia, 2020)


For at least some viewers in every country, there is a slight, daggy charm to be found in low-budget comedy films set in the rural or small-town areas of that country. Australia is no exception to this rule; You Can’t Stop the Murders (2003) was one earlier example of this type.


Paper Champions, set and shot in Geelong, is the latest brave effort in the local tradition. Director Jo-Anne Brechin has two other features in her filmography, Zelos (2017) and Unsound (2020). Main actor Luke Saliba is also co-producer, and the co-writer alongside James Pratt and Michael F.J. McCallum; he plays Rey, an inhibited, introverted fellow who lacks the mana (self-confidence) that his best pal, Wade (John Tui), keeps urging him to embrace.


Much of the humour comes from the repetitive nature of a boring, everyday cycle, as in so many Australian comedies about office life: wake up, eat the same lunch, interact with the same people … until, that is, various whimsical events shake Rey out of his habits, and he pursues both a nurse, Holly (Tessa de Josselin), and – more quirkily (since quirk is the curse of Aussie cinema) – a moment of glory in the wrestling ring.


Australian screen comedies frequently invite a kind of cultural carbon-dating. This one cracks jokes about Rocky (in a sports training montage), Kubrick’s 2001 (“Open the pod bay doors, HAL”) and Saturday Night Fever (the inevitably tawdry dancing-under-the-disco-ball spectacle). Up-to-the-minute material, wouldn’t you say? On the other hand, there are lame references to “diversity and inclusion surveys” in the 21st century workspace.


Gary Sweet injects a welcome bit of manic, guest-star energy as Terry, new partner of Rey’s mother (Kaarin Fairfax) – they form a (sort of) hippie couple living right next to our frightened hero.


Paper Champions cruises along on its moderate good-vibes.

© Adrian Martin August 2020

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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