The (Epistolary) Movie Review: ‘Australia’

australia_movie1Dear Baz Luhrmann,

You have a problem, and the first step toward solving it is recognising it: Despite your manifest gifts as a filmmaker, you can’t do tragedy. And you need to stop trying.

Your 1992 debut, Strictly Ballroom, was an utter delight, a sprightly mélange of comedy and romance, dancing and music, attractive stars and cartoonish (but not irredeemable) villains.

Since then, I fear, you’ve gotten badly off-track. We can set aside 1996’s Romeo+Juliet for the moment, because I confess I have never made it through the film despite multiple attempts.

Your 2001 opus Moulin Rouge! is another matter. Lush, giddy, crammed to the gills with cleverly arranged pop ditties, it should have been a boffo entertainment. But for some incomprehensible reason, you decided that this dizzy daydream ought to be a tragedy.

Your Broadway staging of La boheme in 2003 was a more limited mistake, but a mistake nonetheless. It’s not that it was bad; it just wasn’t particularly good. 

Which brings us to Australia. As in all your films, there are a lot of likable elements (as in most of them, often too many at once). There’s music and humor and action and romance and loopy camera work and nostalgic nods to the popular music and cinema of the past. (“Oz” being a common nickname for Australia, we get to hear “Over the Rainbow” a lot.) But what might have worked as a buoyant throwback adventure yarn is instead weighted down with historical baggage, racial sermonizing, and, yes, frequent eruptions of tragedy.

Read Christopher Orr’s full review in The New Republic …

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