Many Australian films feel undercooked, and a few seem overcooked. But occasionally there is a film so terrible that it doesn't seem to have been cooked at all.
Such a film stops you dead in your tracks and forces you to wonder: how did anyone, at any stage of creating, financing or releasing this movie, believe for even a second that it would work? Dear Claudia is this bad.
Ever since script doctors and other industry sages started touring the globe preaching the attractiveness of small, independent movies with tight, contained concepts, we have seen a flood of films with a tiny bunch of characters trapped in a tightly circumscribed space: a house, a bar, a sci-fi cube. The wisdom goes that this keeps the budget down, and creates a little claustrophobic tension for spice.
Dear Claudia, written and directed by Chris Cudlipp, is set on an attractive island, but it certainly feels claustrophobic. It's a two-hander. Walter (Bryan Brown) is a humble, small-town postman with an unrequited passion for Claudia (Aleksandra Vujcic), local hellcat with a dark, Croatian past. They have gone flying in Walter's plane and crashed. What do they spend their days and nights doing? Mainly reading other people's private mail and embarking – surprise, surprise – on a mutual personal journey of growth and discovery.
Imagine a version of the Harrison Ford-Anne Heche vehicle Six Days, Seven Nights (1998) – itself not exactly a masterpiece – without the stunts, the songs, the charismatic stars or the slick Hollywood scripting. Still worse, Dear Claudia seems caught in an awful time warp; it has the air of a weak British comedy circa 1963, full of painfully overstated jokes (the actors rarely shut their mouths), relentlessly jaunty music and old-fogey attitudes.
This is the kind of film in which female nudity (full frontal) is meant to be erotic, while male nudity (discreetly veiled) is meant to be hilarious. The non-action on the island is occasionally interrupted by glimpses of mundane codgers back home comparing notes on life's adventures and duties. James Stewart's role in It's a Wonderful Life (1946) is dimly discernible in Walter's dilemma – but don't strain your brain looking too hard for it.
Dear Claudia is notable only for its instant inclusion in Australian cinema's already rather crowded Hall of Infamy.
© Adrian Martin February 1999