The legendary English comedienne Jean Dwight (Brenda Blethyn), is working in a canteen these days between small-time gigs; her ex, John (Frankie J. Holden) is also a 'was' in showbiz, now a security guard with a vanity CD on the way. Their son Mark (Richard Wilson) is disabled and dependent, but young Tim (Khan Chittenden), still a virgin at 21, has just met a girl, Jill (Emma Booth) and this threatens to break Jean's hold on the chaotic family. Jean employs every trick in the book to safeguard the future of her family, leaving Tim torn between two passionate women intent on fighting it out in the war for his affections.
Review by Louise Keller:
'My mum and dad - they're entertainers,' confesses Tim (Khan Chittenden) to Jill (Emma Booth) after a night of intimacy. It is only now that he has plucked up enough courage to tell her - because he knows that his parents are 'different'. Set against a backdrop of Sydney's club scene, Clubland centers on the changing relationship between a controlling mother and her son who is blossoming under the influence of first love. Anchored by a strong performance by Brenda Blethyn as the loud, crass club entertainer angry at the world for having robbed her of her fame and success, Cherie Nowlan's down-to-earth comedic drama and coming of age story is funny and poignant, all the while capturing the essence of the environment in which it is set.
Blethyn's Jean is a real trouper. She lives and breathes show business. Her day starts at 5am, as she heads to her job in the canteen. Then there are the singing lessons, the kids she entertains at the disability centre, and on the stage of the local club, beyond the poker machines, where she milks the crowd with suggestive patter and practised expertise. Writer Keith Thompson colours the characters and situations with truth, and anyone who recognises the essence of a club performer, will relate to Jean. Khan Chittenden and Emma Booth as Jean's son Tim and his new girlfriend Jill give compelling performances; their relationship begins awkwardly and blossoms unexpectedly, while having to cope with Jean's demands. Veteran entertainer Frankie J. Holden is well oiled as Jean's ex husband John, who still thrives on the applause of his only CD single from many years ago, but the role of Mark, Jean's disabled younger son (ably played by Richard Wilson) is badly misjudged.
At the heart of the story is Tim's coming of age, as he discovers love and manages to prise himself away from the clutches of his well-meaning but demanding mother. An impromptu get together with his father in Coles' car-park in the middle of the night, ice-skating for fun, taking Jill home for the first time, and ringing home to tell Mum he is going to sleep over are just some of the instances that make up the every day. Like a good club act, the film heads towards a big finale, when reconciliations manifest over bacon and scrambled eggs. The rule of comedy is to 'make 'em like you', which we do, wholeheartedly.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Clubland will make you cry - or feel like crying - in a final act that pays off all the work you've had to do to get there. Cherie Nowlan's film is like a case of Brian de Palma filmmaking, in which the centre of the storytelling as it plays on screen is not actually the centre of the story the filmmaker is telling. It's hard to talk about this without giving too much away, but here's a hint: the filmmaker's notes focus on the teenage romance, while the casting and the film's structure centre the story on the ageing entertainer and mother Jean (Brenda Blethyn). The title reflects and emphasises this.
The teenage romance between Jill and Tim (Emma Booth, Khan Chittenden) is certainly the catalyst, but our attention is often on what is happening in the life and career of UK born comedienne Jean. The story of Tim's first love is intense and creates the film's emotional volcano, while the story of Jean is a zig-zag of comedy and pathos, through the land of broken homes, hearts and dreams. Tim has to confess that his parents in showbiz, as if they were social outcasts; in fact, they are social misfits, but not because they are entertainers.
The powerful performances and dramatic pull are irresistible, and the payoff is marvellous. The only hesitation to a wholehearted approval of casting is the talented Richard Wilson as Mark, who plays a teenager brain damaged at birth. This is not a reflection on Wilson, as on the demands of the role; sadly, this character is virtually impossible to play credibly by a completely healthy actor. That Wilson makes us believe in him enough to feel for him at all is an achievement.
The turmoil of the film's drama (camouflaged by its humour) is haunting and as it settles into memory, its deep resonances surface.
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CHERIE NOWLAN INTERVIEW (Text and podcast)
CAST: Brenda Blethyn, Emma Booth, Khan Chittenden, Frankie J. Holden, Philip Quast, Richard Wilson, Peter Callan, Rebecca Gibney, Katie Wall,
PRODUCER: Rosemary Blight
DIRECTOR: Cherie Nowlan
SCRIPT: Keith Thompson
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Mark Wareham
EDITOR: Scott Gray
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Nell Hanson
RUNNING TIME: 109 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Palace
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: June 28, 2007