A Month of Sundays & Pawno

April 29, 2016
Anthony LaPaglia in 'A Month of Sundays' (2015)
Anthony LaPaglia in 'A Month of Sundays' (2015)

‘Fun’ is not a term one associates with contemporary Australian cinema, which has mistaken humourlessness for high seriousness. I’m not pining for slapstick comedy, only for films that can hold an up-tempo mood for more than a minute at a time. The Dressmaker came close last year, while Last Cab to Darwin – a film about euthanasia – was one of the more entertaining productions.

I’m prompted to drag out these well-worn complaints after having seen two new Australian movies – Matthew Saville’s A Month of Sundays, and Paul Ireland’s debut feature, Pawno.

A Month of Sundays stars Anthony LaPaglia as a depressed real estate agent in Adelaide – which may sound like a less-than-dazzling premise for a film.

LaPaglia plays Frank, who is going through a divorce, after his estranged wife, Wendy (Justine Clarke), has found small-town fame as the star of a medical soap opera. Although he is like a zombie at work, his boss, Phillip, (played by wise-cracking John Clarke), seems to have a certain affection for him.

One day Frank gets a phone call from his mother, which is slightly surprising as she passed away the year before. In his befogged state he talks to the caller as if it’s a natural mother-son conversation. It’s a wrong number, not a supernatural event, but Frank has enjoyed talking to this elderly widow so much that he tracks her down and invites himself over for a cup of tea.

This woman, Sarah (Julia Blake) is at first a bit suspicious of Frank – as indeed anybody would be when a real estate agent starts paying unsolicited home visits. Perhaps she was thinking of the character in Little Britain who can’t get enough of the old ladies. Soon, however, they’ve become friends, despite the misgivings of Sarah’s grown-up son, Damien (Donal Forde).

Through this friendship Frank finds his way back into the world, settling accounts with his wife, his son, and his late mother. There’s not much more to the story, and every move is telegraphed in advance.

A Month of Sundays is one of those films that seems interminable, not simply because it is slow, but because it makes hard work of everyday scenarios. With the exception of John Clarke’s banter, which sounds as if he’s making it up on the spot, the dialogue is utterly naturalistic – and dull. I was wondering if this movie was secretly funded by the real estate agents of Australia to give the impression that they were lovable human beings, but few viewers would want Frank selling their house.

Pawno is sharper than A Month of Sundays, although it also has a morbid fascination with the lives of ordinary people. In the right hands this can work, but Ireland’s gritty slice of Footscray street life feels too contrived, with a cast of multicultural characters that never attain a third dimension.

The centre of this movie is Les Underwood’s pawn shop, where the locals go to sell something, buy something, pass the time, or even administer sexual favours. Les is played by character actor, John Brumpton. He’s a tough cookie, but soft at heart. He’s infinitely patient with Danny (Damian Hill) his wayward young shop assistant, who spends his days dreaming of love. The object of Danny’s affections is Kate (Maeve Dermody) who works at the local bookstore.

Further down the street we meet two loveable layabouts, Carlo and Pauly (Malcolm Kennard and Mark Coles Smith), who sit around harassing passers-by. There’s a distraught mother (Kerry Armstrong), a towering trannie, a local thug who isn’t as tough as he looks, and so on.

The story is little more than a series of vignettes spun out over the course of a day, with the hesitant romance of Danny and Kate providing some sense of continuity. Ireland portrays a group of urban Aussies, who swear and fight and make mischief, but have a collective heart of gold. It’s probably true that Australians are a sentimental bunch beneath the bravado, but such an insight doesn’t make for a memorable night at the pictures. Unlike Eddie the Eagle, who transcends his ordinariness and conquers the world, the characters in these local films are remarkably pleased with their own mediocrity.

A Month of Sundays
Written & directed by Matthew Saville,
Starring Anthony LaPaglia, Julia Blake, Justine Clarke, John Clarke, Donal Forde
Australia, rated PG, 129 mins

Pawno
Directed by Paul Ireland
Written by Damian Hill
Starring John Brumpton, Damian Hill, Maeve Dermody, Malcolm Kennard, Mark Coles Smith, Ngoc Tran, Kerry Armstrong, Brad McMurray
Australia, rated MA 15+, 89 mins

Published in the Australian Financial Review, Saturday 30th April, 2016.