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Garage Days

(Alex Proyas, Australia, 2002)


 


There are two schools of thought on teen movies. The first proposes that, since such movies are essentially rites of passage tales, they should in effect dramatise the transition from childhood to adulthood, innocence to maturity. Literature has a respectable tradition of such edifying teen stories, and cinema has long followed the example.

The second, rather anarchic school of thought believes that teen movies should have no truck with illusions of maturity or wisdom. They should, instead, celebrate a state of arrested development, showing young people at their moment of greatest disconnection from society’s norms and values. Movies from American Pie (1999) to Bully (2001) satisfy such a desire.

When sober critics disparage ‘films aimed at fifteen-year-olds’, it is usually the arrested kind of teen movie they have in mind. But, in truth, it is often difficult to draw a strict dividing line between the two types. Many gross-out comedies turn civic-minded in the end, while many serious dramas of growing up contain gleefully anarchic vignettes.

Sometimes the tension between anarchy and respectability gives life and complexity to teen movies. But, at other times, it simply results in a big mess. Alex Proyas’ eagerly awaited Garage Days is an energetic portrait of kids in a Sydney band. It tries hard, but mainly falls flat on its face.

The project marks a change of pace for Proyas after his forays into sci-fi and the supernatural in The Crow (1994) and Dark City (1998). Although there is a Goth girl, Angie (Yvette Duncan), to remind us (in a splendid hallucination scene) of Proyas’ former horror-noir pyrotechnics, generally the film tries to establish a colourful, comic ambience new in his work.

The characters are established as diverse types at the outset, but never become terribly interesting. Freddy (Kick Gurry) is the idealistic singer who will do anything to fulfil his dream of success. Tanya (Pia Miranda) is a riot grrrl with plenty of attitude and problems with men. The other members of the band embody various states of youthful naïveté, sullenness or decadence.

Beyond the circle of the band, the characters are either silly (Russell Dyskstra as Bruno, the band’s manager), shrill (Marton Csokas from xXx [2002], big man in the music industry) or pale (Maya Stange as Kate, love interest for several band members).

Garage Days rests on an odd conceit. We never hear the band play more than the first or last chords of any of their songs until very late in the piece. There is a point to this, but until it is revealed the film leaves us in a non-musical limbo.

But how can any movie which is supposedly about warring cultural trends in a particular time and place ignore the music? Proyas aims to emulate neither Velvet Goldmine (1998), with its fanatical attention to musical culture, nor Almost Famous (2000), which minimised songs in favour of busily textured interactions of character. But all Garage Days is left with is an endless, empty lament about how pokies are ruining the pub rock scene.

Ultimately, the film seems to be a displaced reflection by Proyas on his own career path, from rock videos to mainstream movies. And this is where the old-fashioned rite of passage rears its respectable head. For a movie with jazzy chapter titles like "Fun with Drugs, Part 1", Garage Days is awfully obsessed with cleaning up, going straight and settling down. It is finally so adult it becomes downright depressing.

Only in a narrative-free, final credits dance scene, in which every actor steps out of character and shakes their booty, does Garage Days give some sign of the lively, cheeky film it could have been.

MORE Proyas: I, Robot

© Adrian Martin October 2002


Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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