What this Aussie movie gets so wrong
YOU never really want to jump up and down on an Australian indie production - it feels like a betrayal of the local industry which already doesn't have the easiest time.
But sometimes, a movie can't be protected by a parochial shield and needs to be called out for what it is - indulgent, misguided and more than a touch delusional.
Chocolate Oyster premiered Sunday night at the Sydney Film Festival. Conceived in, filmed in, and about Bondi, the independently produced movie was touted by its director Steve Jaggi as "experimental" and "different". It's really not.
Jaggi is clearly trying to emulate the free-flowing, improvisational spirit of John Cassavetes - he also cites French cinema and early mumblecore as influences - but Chocolate Oyster is a pale imitation of what came before it. There's nothing pioneering here.
Ostensibly a movie about 20-somethings struggling to live their shiny dreams in expensive Bondi, the movie was shot on a tiny budget with much of the dialogue and situations improvised by the actors, based on frustrations from their own lives.
The movie itself, if you knew nothing of the context surrounding it, is boring, feels overlong - quite a feat for a film that clocks in at one hour and 15 minutes - with underdeveloped characters and scenes that drag. It's also nowhere near as funny, insightful or arthouse as it thinks it is.
But what really goads is that Jaggi has said the problems encountered by the characters in Chocolate Oyster "are all very specific Bondi problems and there's a vibe to Bondi we all know".
One female character is stuck working as a waitress while she dreams of becoming a professional dancer - but her ambitions are thwarted by the reality of a competitive industry and a freeloading boyfriend. Yeah, we get it, that sucks. But that is so far from being specific to Bondi, you really have to wonder what Jaggi, a Canadian who has lived in the beachside suburb for 10 years, thinks the rest of the world is worrying about.
But it beggars belief that he may think, even a little, that people in Newcastle or Box Hill might not also have the same Instagram dreams that are crushed by the reality of housing affordability. It's that entitled, bubble mentality that some Bondi snobs have that infuriates everyone else in Sydney and beyond.
The irony is that Chocolate Oyster doesn't even feel like it is set in Bondi. One imagines that Jaggi's decision to not actually show the beach or its famous coastline is deliberate - he probably didn't want to be obvious or mainstream (shock, horror!) - but the effect of the omission is that the setting feels generic, it could be anywhere.
We should be encouraging local filmmakers tell uniquely Australian stories and it's a huge risk to put yourself on the line, that has to be acknowledged. But what a waste when something does get up, it's so underwhelming.
Chocolate Oyster is currently screening at the Sydney Film Festival.