As a film reviewer, it’s not our job to be unbiased. Occasionally an upcoming release gets us particularly excited or just a little bit chuffed. A new project from a beloved director, screenwriter or actor will always elicit excitement that cannot be contained. But when said excitement is met with a response like this upon expressing it - “Oh god, I worked on the musical version years ago, it was fucking awful. Why would they make that!?” - it gives one pause... and then trepidation. It turns out I should have heeded my friend’s warning for Bruce Beresford’s latest offering, ‘Ladies in Black’.
It’s 1950s Sydney and it’s Christmas time, which means the busy season for the ladies in black who work in Goodes, an upscale department store in the middle of the city. With all of the Christmas and New Year’s parties approaching, it’s particularly busy for the gals in Women’s Cocktail, Fay (Rachael Taylor, ‘Red Dog’, Netflix's 'Jessica Jones') and Patty (Alison McGirr, ‘Home and Away’) and Model Gowns’ Magda (Julia Ormond, ‘Sabrina’), so Miss Cartwright (Noni Hazelhurst, TV’s ‘A Place to Call Home’) has hired some help in shy 16-year-old school leaver Lisa (Angourie Rice, ‘The Nice Guys’). Over the course of the summer with the help of her new foreign friend, Magda Lisa learns to grow up and become a lady as she eagerly awaits her exam results. Fay longs for love and romance beyond the Australian boys she’s forced to meet who only want one thing. Patty wants to start a family which is difficult with her less-than-amorous husband. And Magda relishes taking Lisa under her wing while also tasked with finding her Hungarian friend Rudi (Ryan Corr, ‘Holding the Man’) a nice Australian girl.
When I left this screening, I could have sworn I had been sitting in that cinema for six hours! As it turns out, ‘Ladies in Black’ is a tidy hour and 45 minutes. This might seen reasonable to some, certainly by today’s standards, but not when you’re forced to watch absolutely nothing happen for almost two hours. Actually nothing happens here, and it’s all acted out to one of the worse screenplays imaginable. Why do Australian-made and set films feel the need to up the Australian factor? The word “strueth” is uttered several times, and in one scene over tea they actually hand out a plate of lamingtons. Oh, my eyes hurt after rolling them so much.
Look, there is a lovely element to the film about immigration and acceptance throughout thanks to Magda’s storyline, she being a post-war refugee from Slovenia along with her Hungarian husband and friends. However, it’s met with a bit of an assault to the senses hearing all the Australian characters refer to them as “refos” constantly. It’s so vulgar, especially laden with that heavy Aussie accent. But alas, there’s a happy ending for all and everyone learns to accept their new foreign Australian citizens who unnaturally feel the need to express how much they love this country and how lucky they are.
Actually nothing happens here and it’s all acted out to one of the worse screenplays imaginable.
‘Ladies in Black’ is by beloved Australian filmmaker Bruce Beresford, the man behind great and classic films such as ‘Puberty Blues’, ‘Breaker Morant’, ‘Driving Miss Daisy’, ‘Double Jeopardy’ and ‘Mao’s Last Dancer’. Beresford also has a co-writing credit here, and I’m sorry to say Mr Beresford’s greatness has left the building. The first thing that strikes you about ‘Ladies in Black’ is its serious lack of cinematography. The look and feel of this era are just not present. Sure, the costumes and hair are there, but that’s it. The whole film looks so two-dimensional which makes it nearly impossible to be enveloped by this world. The screenplay is very stagnant and unnatural, almost like a poorly-written stage play, causing many scenes to end abruptly. ‘Ladies in Black’ left me feeling bored and borderline appalled that this film will be seen as a representation of not only ourselves but our country as artists and filmmakers. Not happy Jan.