Man's Gotta Do
In any country with a large film production slate, it ruffles no feathers if a few movies choose to be gently old-fashioned.
In the crisis-stricken Australian industry of 2004, however, the few feature films that do get made and released are unfairly expected to be, all at once, successful, entertaining, topical, innovative and artistic.
I pity the makers of A Man's Gotta Do. It will be greeted with cries that it is at least half a decade too late, that it avoids current social issues, that it has little cinematic flair, and that it peddles a simplistic view of suburbia.
All of this is pretty true. But if you approach A Man's Gotta Do as if it were a spin-off from the Australian television series Kath and Kim rather than a Cannes contender, you are more likely to enjoy it on its own level.
Shot around Port Kembla and Wollongong, in a semi-improvised manner, the film mostly happens inside the home of Eddy (John Howard), his wife, Yvonne (Rebecca Frith) and daughter, Chantelle (Alyssa McClelland).
Eddy is a fisherman who does some secret, criminal moonlighting on the side. Most of the time, he is gruff and bewildered – especially by the ways of the women in his life.
Yvonne is feeling rejected and unfulfilled, and wants another child. Chantelle is on the verge of marrying a man that Eddy disapproves of, when a crisis propels her into greater rebelliousness. In particular, Chantelle's charge that Eddy has no feelings – or in unable to express them – cuts to the quick. So he starts reading his daughter's diary.
Apart from the kitsch fashions and suburban architecture jokes familiar from Kath and Kim, A Man's Gotta Do recalls many previous Australian movies. Its blacker complications – involving, as per a certain Australian Gothic, issues of potency, fidelity and paternity – evoke the brittle vision of Shirley Barrett's films, Love Serenade (1996, starring Frith) and Walk the Talk (2000). (This kind of gallows humour of the eternally cuckolded modestly recalls the great Italian era of Pietro Germi's Seduced and Abandoned .)
Its homely touch of the musical genre (via Jordan Best's rather wonderful songs) reminds us of David Caesar's Mullet (2001), another tale of inarticulate Aussie blokedom. And of course, the mocking-but-affectionate tone hails back to that seemingly unrepeatable hit, The Castle (1997).
I laughed quite a lot during A Man's Gotta Do. I certainly prefer it to writer-director Chris Kennedy's previous Doing Time for Patsy Kline (1997). Where that film used a lumpy structure leaping between fantasy and reality, this one aims wisely for television-style linearity.
It is so much like a television sitcom, in fact, that several major events in the plot end up, surreally, occurring off-screen. But unlike a television episode, it does not find its ending easily.
The virtues and limitations of this movie are summed up in a typical gag. In the course of a discussion about Chantelle's anorexic tendencies, Eddy ostentatiously turns around, bends over, and remarks: "If anyone should be worried about body image, it's me!" Either just the line or just the gruesome sight of Eddy's backside would have made the point; both at once is too much.
But, in its artless way, it's still funny.
© Adrian Martin November 2004