Stars: Lincoln Younes, Rahel Romahn, Michael Denkha
Australian comedy historically travels well and Down Under is more unique servings of laughs with a polarising and provocative subject.
Based around race riots that engulfed the Sydney suburb of Cronulla in Christmas in 2006, the film switches its focus between two groups of hapless men, a Lebanese quartet and a racist White quartet.
The Whites are looking to defend their beaches and uphold Aussie pride whilst the Lebanese are seeking retribution for the racially motivated beatings being doled out to their community.
This is a good set up and the film opens with real life footage of the riots before introducing the characters in a manner of humorous ways.
The Whites are mainly nationalistic nitwits save for one man and his cousin who has Down Syndrome (and many of the films sweet natured moments). By way of peer pressure both are taken on the mission to find some “Lebs” and dish out a beating.
The Lebanese men are a mix of traditional Muslim values and second-generation modernism. The young men listen to modern pop whilst the elder clashes with them over a refusal to pray. It’s in these exchanges the film finds real weight and emotion.
As a comedy the film has great one-liners, visual gags and some pretty intoxicating visual set pieces that are memorable, but there is also a lot of awkward comedy and stereotyping that didn’t sit well with me.
It might be argued that this is what ‘some’ Australians are like but as a comedy for an international audience some of the racial humour and jokes about homosexuality are too broad and insensitive to feel necessary.
The most inspired moments come in the parodying of the cause both groups fight for.
One of the White men, a Ned Kelly obsessive, is oblivious to the fact Ned was actually an immigrant.
This is ultimately the message that lands best. Australia is a land of immigrants and unless you are an indigenous Australian, calls of white Australian pride are as futile as they are unfounded.
By the time the film finds its feet there is plenty to enjoy. A sequence sound tracked by ‘Natalie Imbruglia’s’ Torn and other 90’s Pop is particularly excellent and by it climax it is succeeding as a dark comedy with high stakes.
There is a seriousness to it that works and the ending is definitely one of the most shocking and surprising of any comedy I’ve seen in some time.
As someone with Australian roots I actively seek out Australian films at LFF, mainly to see what films they are sending out to worldwide audiences but also to get a fix for a place I can call home.
Down Under satisfied my appetite and made me laugh out loud many times, which is undoubtedly its intention but unfortunately not all of the notes it hits are high ones and some may ultimately find it forgettable.