The NZ reviews have been so stringently, hatefully negative about Australia by Baz Luhrmann, I decided to go see it. I'm perverse like that.
I expected it to be atrocious, so I did have to build up courage and be in exactly in the right mood. It helped that I could look forward to some wide screen shots of the Kimberleys region of Australia, an area I have read about, so I comforted myself with the prospect at least of enjoying some grand cinematography even if the rest of it was dire.
If you loved movies like Gone with the Wind, Titanic and Pearl Harbour, then you'll be at an advantage should you go to see Australia. It's in that genre. Big, stupid, cliched, unlikely plot - sentimental romantic nonsense. If like me, you don't care for that sort of melodrama, you need to consider taking a vomit bucket.
But this post is not a criticism of the Luhrmann film. I actually got it, and I applaud it, within its own genre boundaries that is. (I hate that sort of movie, which qualifies me to recognise it as a standard member of the category.)
I walked out of Pearl Harbour and only sat through Titanic because I was looking forward to watching the ship sink. Australia didn't seem any worse than the usual romantic epic. All the well-thought out epithets such as "hokey" apply to the whole genre according to those of us who have always been on the outside looking in. I wouldn't single this one out.
So why the extra hostility towards this particular epic? Were reviewers expecting an art movie?
In my opinion, this film is a sign of Australia growing up, along the lines of the heartwarming "SORRY" Kevin Rudd said last year. At the heart of the film IS a criticism of the travesty of the "stolen generations". Sure it's schlock. We've had plenty of high-art criticisms already, but isn't this the first schmaltzy one?
Australia said sorry, and they're showing they are really sorry, by producing a big screen epic romantic drama with an indigenous Australian boy at the heart of the story. That's the point I got. Even though the plot of Australia is improbable to say the least, at least it does clearly suggest the horror of the atrocity done on the stolen children and their families.
The "stolen generations" story has been brought into the mainstream in a way that money can't buy in any other way - in the form of populist entertainment.
Yeah sure, the same message has been said so well on any number of elite soap boxes, and there are some stunning indie movies that are not only PC, they have artistic integrity. But who sees them? They pretty much preach to the converted.
OK there were cringe making moments in Australia, and some ballast that might well have been jettisoned (I always feel that way about the overlong movies).
But in my opinion Australia was not as bad as I'd been led to believe, and I felt just a little more proud of NZ's neighbour Australia, for bringing their incredibly long overdue "Sorry" into the mainstream.
Yeah, sure, this is tricky territory. And I'm just an outsider commenting, so I have probably missed a lot. I can see the pitfalls, such as that for most of this movie the boy is choosing his own assimilation to a white mummy and daddy rather than having it forced on him. But these issues are opened up for us too, and the characters are allowed to grow, and to let go.
Within the limitations of the genre, I saw the last moments of the film as a genuinely uplifting plea for self-determination.
Luhrmann's attempt to normalise the criticism of the stolen generations, has been called smug, preachy and patronising. And so it may seem. The right wing hate it for being left-wing propaganda, and the film is also being also being slammed from elsewhere on the political spectrum, for the hackneyed ethnic caricatures and lack of realistic historical representation. For not going far enough.
But I can see Luhrmann's point. Somebody had to do something like this for a mass audience, and who better than the guy who brought us both Strictly Ballroom and Moulin Rouge?
The silliness of the plot is no more ridiculous than any Grand Opera. The politics are not impeccable but they're visionary in the context of Australia's shameful reluctance to let go of its racist past.
That the whole blockbuster is very cleverly hung on the "Oz" pun is just one of the subtexts that kept me watching this movie (I liked the tribute to the western genre too), and that sets it apart from the run of the mill mindless entertainments that are so appealing at this time of year.