Australian films. We all have a preconceived notion of what to expect - and so every now and again, when you stumble across a diamond in the rough, it can feel like the clouds parting. ‘West of Sunshine’ made it into official selection at the 74th Venice Film Festival, so could this be the latest gem for Australian cinema?
Jim’s (Damian Hill) in a little trouble - he’s struggling with gambling debt, and a loan shark is calling to collect. It’s the same day that he receives a call from his estranged wife (Kat Stewart), reminding him he’d promised to look after his son Alex (Ty Perham). Balancing his job as a delivery man, trying to keep his bratty son happy and entertained, and scrape together enough money to save his skin, Jim is in for a busy day.
Though this may sound like some interesting stuff, it doesn’t play out that way at all. Instead of being tense and dramatic, it’s instead slow and thoughtful - which doesn’t work in the slightest. There’s a lot at stake here, but we never feel it - the pacing of the film is too flat and superfluous scenes weigh heavily on the plot. Even Jim’s debt collector seems a little too casual about the whole thing.
It’s also difficult to empathise with a man like Jim. He’s no Romeo, and has thoroughly let his family down, then continuing that pattern with self-destruction. His gambling addiction doesn’t make him a likeable character, though perhaps for some a little relatable. Similarly, Alex almost exists as an antagonist for Jim; with much of the film spent in Jim’s car, they’re constantly at each other’s throats. Although the end of the second act onwards does offer a little redemption, it’s too little too late.
This is a little Australian film with an enticing story that falls flat in its execution. What could have been a gritty, poignant drama of life in the suburbs becomes a dry, dragging drudge. ‘West of Sunshine’ certainly isn’t the ray of hope that Australian cinema needs right now.