Released: 18th January 2018 (Australia)
Seen: 22nd January 2018
Directed & Written by: Stephan Elliott
Produced by: Piccadilly Pictures, See Pictures & Wildheart Films
Starring: Guy Pearce, Julian McMahon, Radha Mitchell & Kylie Minogue
Living on a culdesac in the middle of suburban Australia is a weird experience, to say the least. Especially in the 70’s when it was the norm for the parents to have a bit of a piss up while the kids were in the rec room trying to watch Mr Squiggle and ignore the sounds of whatever song the old folks put on the record player. Swinging Safari is a love letter to that period in Aussie life, showing it in immaculate detail that will send any Aussie back to their childhood, or at least to how they remember their childhood looking. It tells the story of your average kids in the Aussie suburbs, Jeff Marsh (Played by Atticus Robb) is an amateur filmmaker who keeps convincing his friends to perform elaborate stunts for a film he’s making, even though he doesn’t know what the plot of that film is yet. Melly (Played by Darcey Wilson) is a young girl who dreams of escaping her humdrum life, hates her family and has decided not to eat because she doesn’t see the point if she’s going to remain stuck in a street that she may never leave. Both these kids, along with their friends, are trying to just live a normal life. That’s made difficult when their parents decide to have a swingers party and, upon that stuffing up, end up tearing the culdesac apart at the seams.
Every performer in this movie is absolutely incredible and while the adults are the ones on the poster, it’s the kids who steal the show. The kids have to go through a lot more than just trying to get to school during magpie season, they have to deal with anorexia and the sexual revolution and a giant whale carcass that’s stinking up the beach. They have to go through a lot and they end up getting the bulk of the best material to work with. The adults, a capable cast of some iconic Aussie stars that really just are there to tell the swinger storyline which certainly gets some pretty good moments, especially out of Guy Pierce, Kylie Minogue and Radha Mitchell who are the funniest trilogy of adults. I swear I have met every single one of the people they portrayed, they created characters that I’m sure every Aussie knows well and they portray them perfectly. There is no tongue in cheek stuff here, these people feel real and they’re truly spectacular.
The story is, admittedly, a little all over the place. We go between the swingers party, the removal of the whale and an elaborate story of a pair of teenagers getting fond of each other and wanting to escape but really, the story isn’t what matters. This feels like a piece driven by nostalgia, a work that takes elements of Australian life and gives a little slice of life back then. There are so many things here that people who grew up with this kind of life will remember, details that are so specific and hilarious that if you didn’t grow up with them you may miss the joke. There are other moments that feel universal, silly bits of wordplay and reactions to certain situations, but a lot of this feels so unique to Australia and specifically to pre-2000’s Australia that it might be a hard sell for those not familiar. There is also a mild strange tonal shift, while a lot of the film feels like it’s capturing a snapshot into the lives of a 70’s family there are scenes that are so extreme that they border on absurd. They’re still funny scenes, the final scene especially, but they feel weird compared to the rest of the film.
Visually the film reminds me so much of old family photos. The houses they use are basically the houses I remember people having when growing up, down to the plastic on certain sections of the carpet. The colours feel like they’re pulled right out of an old photo that I saw of my parent’s back in the 70’s. Things that we all considered to be acceptable back then litter the film, it doesn’t shy away from the political incorrectness of the time and doesn’t whitewash how Aussies actually behaved (Even if they definitely whitewashed the cast… just saying, it’s an Aussie film and having the entire main cast completely white, that’s a bit messed up guys). There’s a lot of moments of cultural cringe, seeing a gollywog doll is enough to make every aussie gulp because those were genuinely a thing we all knew that someone in our family had, unsure if anyone knew the context back then or if they just ignored it but those do pop up in the film so if that’s a red line for you, understandable. But it’s also historically accurate and there is a real sense that they didn’t want to create a false history. They explicitly state that this was before political correctness so there’s some stuff laid about the place that is definitely from a past we should move on from, but I respect them not hiding it.
What you end up getting from this film is a real look back to our past, an Aussie comedy-drama that feels like a perfect snapshot of the suburban childhood that a lot of people remember. It’s not for everyone and I dare say that if you were born post 2000 you’re going to get a lot less out of this than those who were close enough to this time period for stories and photos to still be a major part of our lives but for those who remember and those who were there, this is the kind of film that one should be watching on Australia Day with a coke and a really nice choc top, ready to enjoy a good laugh.