The Rage in Placid Lake

(Tony McNamara, Australia, 2003)


It has become the favourite sport of film journalists to sneer at the proliferation of quirky comedies in Australia – as if this brand of eccentric, whimsical humour did not exist everywhere, at all times. The only real question happens to be: is quirky done well, or badly?

Tony McNamara's The Rage in Placid Lake is definitely a quirky comedy. The teen hero, Placid (singer Ben Lee), has a funny-looking face. His parents (Miranda Richardson and Gary McDonald) are forever absorbed in New Age fads and rituals.

Absurd plot threads – such as the recurrence of a bunch of school toughs who keep chasing Placid into his adult life – are filmed in self-consciously wacky angles and topped with an upbeat, cheery score.

This film could so easily have been a big, flat mess. Certainly, in any conventional, psychological way, it makes precious little sense, as Placid decides to stop being a rebel and chase social conformity – just as the secret love of his life, Gemma (Rose Byrne), goes in the inverse direction.

It is a film of easy satire – it knocks the hippies, it knocks the corporate suits. McNamara finds it hard, when the crunch comes, to make the Placid-Gemma romance positive or even believable – and there is yet another typically Aussie flat ending. The script is full of odd digressions – such as an extravagant near-death plan announced breathlessly by Gemma – that hint at plot possibilities which could fruitfully have been taken up. The combination of a starring non-actor and a first-time feature director is shaky.

But The Rage in Placid Lake, in its modest way, works. It is reminiscent of American teen films like Can't Hardly Wait (1998) or Drive Me Crazy (1999) in its relentless, energetic momentum. It recognises an important lesson of this genre: the best way to deal with script problems is to brazenly fly past them, distracting the viewer with the next gag or extravagant situation.

The film is carried by its pace, and especially by the wonderful performances of McDonald and Richardson (who pronounces with relish: "He used to live between my legs! Live there!") Truth be told, it is closer to the frivolous stylishness of Yahoo Serious' underrated Mr Accident (2000) than the hero's-journey parable to which it aspires. But for the 89 brisk minutes it plays on screen, it's fun.

© Adrian Martin August 2003

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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