Now Add Honey

November 12, 2015
Robbie Magasiva (Sebastian) and writer Robyn Butler (Caroline) in 'Now Add Honey' (2015)
Robbie Magasiva (Sebastian) and writer Robyn Butler (Caroline) in 'Now Add Honey' (2015)

It’s been a slow week for new releases, and for one reason or another I haven’t been able to catch He Named Me Malala, the only serious candidate as a second review.

The other movie released this week, Terrence Malick’s Knight of Cups, is being shown at such a small number of cinemas that Roadshow decided it didn’t even deserve a preview. This seems an extraordinary indictment of a director once viewed as the cinema’s next visionary genius.

In extremis, I’m left with Now Add Honey, a new Australian comedy by a director and a writer whose chances of being hailed as visionary geniuses are exceedingly slim. Husband and wife team, Wayne Hope and Robyn Butler, are best known for their work on TV sitcoms such as The Librarians and Upper Middle Bogan. They have brought those same skills to bear on Now Add Honey, giving us a movie that feels a lot like a TV sitcom.

Butler plays Caroline Morgan, a property lawyer with two daughters, a husband who writes self-help books, and a house in a leafy suburb of Melbourne. This orderly existence is trashed by her sister, Beth (Portia de Rossi) arriving from Los Angeles with her daughter, Honey Halloway (Lucy Fry), who has become the star of a teenage TV series called Monkey Girl.

There are lots of skeletons in the family closet that need to be laid to rest, largely thanks to an offensive memoir Beth has written. The reunion gets off to a shaky start when Beth is arrested for bringing in a suitcase full of amphetamines. While her sister endures a forced stay in a clinic, Carolyn volunteers to take care of Honey.

Needless to say, Honey is the full-on spoilt LA princess, who has never had to assume responsibility for anything. This leads to the predictable tensions within the family, and allows room for new and exotic tensions. Is it funny? Well, vaguely, if you’re feeling relaxed and charitable. As soon as one accepts that all the characters are cliches, the struggle is over. Angus Sampson plays a sleazebag photographer; Hamish Blake a gormless vet engaged to Carolyn’s sister, Katie. Philippa Coulthard is Carolyn’s eldest daughter, Claire, who looks upon Honey with self-righteous contempt.

There is one sharp piece of satire, when we see Honey’s new video clip, which features her dancing around a barn in a skimpy bikini, being drooled over by sweaty, musclebound hunks. It’s funny because it’s so close to all those video clips turned out by Hollywood nymphets that aspire to be paedophilic sex symbols. It couldn’t, however, be any more of a parody than the real-life antics of Milley Cyrus.

Butler and Hope have found it hard to decide whether Honey should be portrayed as oversexed or virginally naïve, so she emerges as a mixture of both. Jesus Franco, the king of Eurotrash, made a film called Lilian the Perverted Virgin, so I suppose there’s a precedent.

Butler has written an equally ambivalent role for herself, as a middle-aged woman who is beginning to feel old and unsexy. The story, however, takes a different perspective. It’s like one of those conversations when someone says: “I’m so old and unsexy!” The wrong reply is: “That’s true”. The correct reply is: “No you’re not! You’re the sexiest woman I know, etc, etc.”

I felt like I was having this conversation with Butler throughout the film. Given that the major comic motif of the story is Honey’s tumescent sex appeal to chaps of all ages, the argument in favour of the mature woman is hard to sustain. It’s as if all the risque humour of the movie were to be contradicted by a short course in morality and common sense. It’s just like the bookies reminding us to gamble responsibly.

Now Add Honey
Directed by Wayne Hope
Written by Robyn Butler
Starring Robyn Butler, Portia de Rossi, Lucy Fry, Philippa Coultard, Hamish Blake, Lucy Durack, Angus Sampson, Erik Thomson, Robbie Magasiva
Australia, rated M, 100 mins

Published in the Australian Financial Review, Saturday 14th November, 2015.

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