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A HEARTBEAT AWAY

SYNOPSIS:
Aspiring young rock guitarist Kevin Flack (Sebastian Gregory) has no interest in old fogies' music, which is what he reckons his father Edwin's (William Zappa) marching band plays at their quiet seaside town. But when an accident prevents his father from leading the Montague Municipal Marching Band, prompted by his mother Grace (Tammy McIntosh), Kevin takes his father's baton and tries to encourage the band to lift its game and its spirits in an effort to win the upcoming championships. It's not just their pride that's at stake, it's the potential for greedy developer Mayor Riddick (Colin Friels) to bulldoze their clubhouse and the band out of existence. To make things complicated, Kevin falls for Riddick's beautiful daughter, Mandy (Isabel Lucas).

Review by Louise Keller:
Like Baz Luhrmann put a contemporary spin on ballroom dancing in Strictly Ballroom, Julie Kincade's story explores the world of brass bands. In short, the story is not worthy of the talents of director Gale Edwards, whose credentials in music theatre are well known. With its theme about passion, the film is agreeable enough with its mix of unruly characters and a rebellious protagonist who just wants to play guitar in his rock band, although there is little that is fresh to add to our experience. While the film clearly has a good heart, the emotional arc is totally missing and as the tale comes to its climactic conclusion, we feel little of the elation that we should be experiencing.

Like Barry Otto's character in Strictly Ballroom, William Zappa's bandleader Edwin Flack had tried something new and revolutionary and now he bears the scars of its failure. It was when the band was 'a heartbeat away from victory' at the annual marching band competition, prompting him to revert to narrow, conservatism where his music is concerned. Hence his intolerance for son Kevin (Sebastian Gregory) and the constant battle of music styles at home.

The story's catalyst comes in the ugly form of greed and progress, as a $50million building project planned by the Mayor (Colin Friels) of the sleepy fishing village of Montague to a state of the art tourist destination. Isabel Lucas is given the task of being decorative as Kevin's romantic interest, who he spies after falling in love with a shiny new Gibson guitar in the window of the local music shop where she works. As to be expected, Kevin's passions bloom beyond the guitar.

Gregory does a good job in the lead role, bridging the generation gap with his father's brass band contemporaries when Edwin breaks a leg and lands in hospital. I especially like Tammy MacIntosh as Edwin's supportive wife whose previously unnoticed talents are exposed. Traditional brass music countered by that of contemporary artists such as Nirvana and Jimmy Webb is interesting conceptually so the disappointing end result is a shame for all concerned.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
You can tell the widely experienced theatre director Gale Edwards has an eye for actors by the depth of talent selected for this debut movie outing of hers. Everyone in the cast, from leads to the supports, are top performers. The trouble is that Edwards has not wrangled their best work for the film. Some of the blame falls on the screenplay, which collects every cliché required in the course of telling what is in any case a rather corny story.

Self focused teenage son resents father's music taste ... friction follows. It's pretty well that simplistic. To reconcile with each other, a number of things have to happen, and predictably enough, they do. Also predictably, son Kevin has to meet the only girl in town with whom an affair is verboten: Mandy Riddick, daughter of the Mayor who is in cahoots with a developer to make Montague a new Surfers Paradise.

Why in such a small town they had not met before, especially as she runs the rather ambitious music shop stocked with expensive guitars and he's a guitarist, is just one of the stumbles in the film's internal (un)reality.

The loss of credibility begins early when we see images (in slo mo) of a band falling head over trombone in torrential rain. It's such an obviously 'cinema' moment of fakery it jars the teeth. Others follow. This little Victorian seaside town is referred to as 'sleepy' but has a sizeable hospital, a grand institutional building, and the Mayor lives in a two storey mansion.

Clichés and caricatures crowd the film as characters take postures; nothing and no-one seems quite real, with the exception of Tammy McIntosh playing Kevin's lively and wise mum. Sebastian Gregory is well cast, but some of his dialogue lets him down and Isabel Lucas is put through the hoops as eye candy, including a beautiful but terribly clichéd private dance scene, observed by Kevin - but intended to elicit audience oooh and aaahs.

Some elements of the film remind us of Strictly Ballroom; but where Baz Luhrmann used theatrical stylisation and dramatic power to drive that iconic film into our hearts, A Heartbeat Away struggles to find the right tone to elevate the basic elements to something more than the sum of their parts.

To be fair, Edwards handles the film's final resolution scenes with energy and verve, but it's too late.



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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 0
Unfavourable: 1
Mixed: 1

GUY GROSS INTERVIEW


A HEARTBEAT AWAY (PG)
(Aust, 2011)

CAST: Sebastian Gregory, Isabel Lucas, William Zappa, Tammy McIntosh, Colin Friels, Roy Billing, Kerry Walker, Terry Camilleri, Erroll O'Neill

PRODUCER: Christopher Fitchett

DIRECTOR: Gale Edwards

SCRIPT: Julie Kincade

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Robert Humphreys

EDITOR: Matt Villa

MUSIC: Guy Gross

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Karen Harboro

RUNNING TIME: 91 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Hoyts

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: March 17, 2011







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