Strange Bedfellows

(Dean Murphy, Australia, 2004)


Ever since Nick Giannopoulos’s The Wannabes (2003), I shudder whenever characters in an Australian comedy retire to an ugly back shed to work up a dance routine.

This is always the cue for supposedly funny music accompanying a montage of ungainly bodies trying out camped-up disco moves.

In Strange Bedfellows, the object of this exercise is neither amateur theatre nor disco. It is a sexual-orientation masquerade for Vince (Paul Hogan) and Ralph (Michael Caton), two ordinary, country blokes taking tips from the local hairdresser (Glynn Nicholas) on how to walk and mince like a gay man.

Vince and Ralph hope only to fool the government – incarnated in the form of a visiting inspector (Pete Postlethwaite) – to win a sorely needed tax break. But it only takes a slight accident at the post office for someone in the Yackandandah community to start spreading the word about the pair’s conversion to the ‘other side’.

Early on, before the mincing lessons and research visits to Sydney clubs begin, Strange Bedfellows has some clever sight gags about how gay the common camaraderie between Aussie blokes looks. And the story saves itself, mercifully, in an unexpectedly touching closing speech by Ralph at the local ball.

In-between, it is a middling and sometimes excruciating movie. Director Dean Murphy has several features under his belt, such as the charming teen flick Lex and Rory (1994). But Strange Bedfellows has more in common with a film that Murphy produced, Till Human Voices Wake Us (2002) – a drama steeped in the leisurely rhythms and community rituals of rural life.

This time, proceedings get just a little too leisurely. Every plot point is planted, announced, explained and rehashed ad nauseam. Although there are some welcome twists in the gender identity department, such as that involving Ralph’s wide-eyed daughter, Carla (Kestie Morassi), the film never approaches the standard set in this realm by Victor/Victoria (1982).

Caton is terrific, but too many of the cast around him are allowed to simply mug – such as Paula Duncan as the local postmaster, who pulls faces like she’s still in a "Spray and Wipe" commercial.

As for Hoges, he is indeed a strange bedfellow. The moments when he simply gives a subtle look to signal panic or confusion reveal his comic talent. He’s less good with words, or when he prances around in supposedly outrageous costumes.

Like Robert Redford, Hogan seems to like vanity parts that show off his advanced-age body. But any film of the twenty-first century that sees fit to end on a freeze-frame of Hoges’ dancing bum is clearly in trouble.

MORE gay comedies for straights: Connie and Carla, To Wong Foo, Three to Tango, In & Out

© Adrian Martin April 2004

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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