Friday April 4, 1997
What is more lively, spirited and unexpected than a youth movie that actually feels youthful? Mostly they show up DOA, compromised by aging, out-of-touch filmmakers and a lack of talent--or both. "Love and Other Catastrophes," however, takes delight in beating the odds.
Made for about $30,000 in 17 days by a gang of fresh, young Australians and directed by 23-year-old Emma-Kate Croghan, "Catastrophes" comes by its wacky charm naturally. A breezy story of university students confused about love or looking for it, it has the exact sense of a culture that comes only from being told from the inside. More than that, it is pure fun to be around.
"Catastrophes" gets comic mileage out of the self-centered cluelessness of its protagonists. Each is so absorbed in his or her own dramas, so convinced that "my life is a complete disaster," that everyone acts at amusing cross-purposes, missing obvious connections in classic screwball fashion.
It starts with the elfin Mia (Frances O'Conner) and best friend Alice (Alice Garner), film students and roommates in search of a third person to share their funky Melbourne warehouse apartment.
The obvious choice would be Mia's girlfriend Danni (Radha Mitchell), but Mia isn't sure she's ready for that much commitment. And Danni's association with a silent but devoted shadow named Savita (Suzi Dougherty) is nothing if not irritating.
Scattered Mia has another crisis to deal with, or at least she thinks it's a crisis. Her favorite professor, the author of "Feral Cinema," has switched departments and Mia is determined to go with him. But blocking her way on this last day to make the change is nothing less than a comic opera obstacle course, with a $663 library fine serving as only the first act.
Roommate Alice has her own difficulties. Her thesis, "Doris Day as Feminist Warrior," is four years late. And she has to decide whether to chuck her rules for potential boyfriends--must be honest, left-handed and like the same films she does--because she has an eye on Ari (Matthew Dyktynski), a hunky classics major known as the campus Warren Beatty.
And then there is earnest, decent Michael (Matt Day), who shares a class with Ari but is as square as the big guy is cool. He also is trapped in an apartment with nonstop party animals and is desperately seeking a new place to live.
It's the pleasure of "Catastrophe's" script to make all these comings and goings feel spontaneous as well as charming. The action is broken up with literary quotes like Nikki Giovanni's "We love because it's the only true adventure" and Nikos Kazantzakis' "Life is trouble," and though the plotting eventually runs to the thin side, a lively pop soundtrack and surprisingly well-defined characters overcome all obstacles.
Though many of the Australian actors are new to film even in their home country, their zest for their parts is contagious. Especially engaging and the focus of much of the film's frenetic energy is O'Conner as Mia, irresponsible but with a smile that makes censure impossible.
"Catastrophes" is also notable for its accepting yet casual attitude toward its characters' sexuality, its refusal to make a big deal about who sleeps with whom or why. Especially after all those Sundance films about morose young people confused about their gender, it's one more thing this captivating film makes look easy.
Love and Other Catastrophes, 1997. R, for sexuality, language and some drug use. A Screwball Five production, with the assistance of the Australian Film Commission, released by Fox Searchlight Pictures. Director Emma-Kate Croghan. Producer Stavros Andonis Efthymiou. Screenplay Yael Bergman and Emma-Kate Croghan with Helen Bandis from a story by Stavros Andonis Efthymiou. Cinematographer Justin Brickle. Editor Ken Sallows. Music Oleh Witer. Running time: 1 hour, 19 minutes. Alice Garner as Alice. Frances O'Conner as Mia. Matthew Dyktynski as Ari. Matt Day as Michael. Radha Mitchell as Danni. Suzi Dougherty as Savita. Kim Gyngell as Professor Leach.