A FEW BEST MEN
When English lad David (Xavier Samuel) announces he is getting married to Mia (Laura Brent), an Australian he's just met on a Pacific Island holiday, his hapless London mates are aghast. But of course they wouldn't miss the Blue Mountains wedding - although by the time the big moment arrives David may have wished they had. Along the way, they have a run in with a crazed drug dealer (Steve Le Marquand) and a large Marino sheep, the pride possession of David's father in law, Senator Jim (Jonathan Biggins) as well as nursing their own neuroses.
Review by Louise Keller:
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
A sheep in drag, a runaway floral arrangement and Olivia Newton John as you’ve never seen her before are some of the memorable moments of this riotous comedy in which the humour varies from the outrageous to the ridiculous. Scripted by Death at a Funeral’s Dean Craig, A Few Best Men cleverly combines its culture clash and buddy themes with a wild tale embracing family secrets, a drug deal gone wrong and a romantic wedding filled with hilarious mishaps.
Directed by Stephan Elliott (The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert) with his indefatigable joie de vivre and wicked sense of humour, the film is a sure fix if you need a laugh. It’s a perfect marriage of British and Australian humour that fuses into its own form. The refined, the raucous and the rip-roaringly rude collide in 97 minutes of sparkling mayhem.
It all starts with a romantic video clip shot on a Pacific Island, when David (Samuel) and Mia (Brent) decide to get married. The happy couple have only just met while on holidays; he is from England, she is from Australia. Back in London, the news of the impending nuptials in the Blue Mountains bombs with David’s three best friends, who are aghast, feeling as though he is deserting them. ‘Holiday romances are meant to end at the airport, not the altar’, they moan. But of course they wouldn’t miss the wedding – although by the time the big moment arrives, David may have wished they had.
Kris Marshall (Death at a Funeral) and Kevin Bishop (The Spanish Apartment), who play Tom and Graham respectively, are the making of the film such is the strength of their presence and hilarious performances. Tom (Marshall), is the outspoken hedonistic bachelor; Graham (Bishop) can’t help playing the fool sporting a Hitler-esque moustache (‘It’s just the way my facial hair grows’) and Luke (Draxl) is the love-sick fool, dumped for someone rumoured to be missing an essential piece of the male anatomy.
Surprise, angst and resentment are squeezed into a jumbo jet (with umpteen stopovers) on a single day before the wedding, as the groom-to-be and his best men make the long journey to the federation home situated on the edge of the beautiful Blue Mountains.
Political satirist and comic Jonathan Biggins has plenty of hide (and front) as Jim Ramm, the ambitious politician father of the bride, whose prize Merino sheep Ramsy (a splendid specimen) steals scene after scene – wearing bra, knickers and fire-engine red lipstick or being lowered surreptitiously from a first floor window.
Poor Ramsy is the butt of many jokes, literally as well as physically: I refer to the scene in which Graham gets up to his armpit at Ramsy’s other end to recover cocaine-filled condoms unwittingly swallowed by the sheep. Some of it is pretty risqué, but Elliott, Australia’s lovable enfant terrible, has a knack of getting away with it all, making everything feel cheeky rather than sordid. He does absurd to perfection.
There are numerous well constructed, funny sequences – like the scene in which Steve Le Marquand’s (Underbelly) semi-naked, tattooed drug-dealer Ray takes a shine to Graham or when Graham tries to ‘convert’ Mia’s supposedly lesbian sister Daphne (Rebel Wilson). In an inspired piece of casting, Olivia Newton-John is a knock-out as the (initially) stitched up mother of the bride, who later shows that appearances can be deceiving.
I love the fact that the humour plays like a horn that is honked at both low and high decibels: subtle and not. It’s wacky and crass – in equal portions. Every scene is bursting with colourful ideas and each character looks as though they could star in their own movie.
The cast has a whale of a time and the energy is contagious. The film looks a treat and the Blue Mountains setting impresses. Elliott keeps the pace moving and all the production values are excellent. This is a corker of a film with a feel-good guarantee.
Published first in the Sun-Herald
Olivia Newton John is an absolute hoot as mother in law Barbara in this madcap romantic comedy that brings together English and Australian humour in earthy earnest. If you enjoyed The Hangover, you'll get a kick out of A Few Best Men, who are, of course, not at their best for most of the time.
Although true to genre where it matters, the film kicks the can around to keep us entertained with ridiculous antics and robust, sometimes vulgar gags. But they are all carefully planted within the story and/or attached to character. Central to the action are the lovers to be married, nice guy David (Xavier Samuel) and pretty Mia (Laura Brent), daughter of an Australian Senator (Jonathan Biggins). They hardly know each other but a romantic island holiday convinces them they are right for each other.
That's the trigger for the story; the comedy happens all around them, as they battle through several wows before reaching the exchange of vows. It's mostly David, or to be precise, his best friends and best men, who do the struggling, whether with an arm up a sheep's rear end seeking lost cocaine pellets packed in condoms, or fighting the effects of their own stupidity.
Much to director Steph Elliott's credit, he holds the reins tight enough to ground the comedy, and his cast responds admirably. Only Tim Draxl as heartbroken friend Luke and Steve Le Marquand as Ray the paradoxical drug dealer overact, but both play characters for whom these excesses are acceptable. Both characters enjoy satisfying resolutions.
Top acting honours to Kris Marshall as the hedonistic and resolutely single Tom, and Kevin Bishop as the nervy and accident prone Graham, David's other two friends, who create genuine characters and deliver solid performances ... not to be confused with stolid. Ramsy, the magnificent ram, steals every scene he is in, while Rebel Wilson steals our hearts as Daphne, Mia's chubby sister who pretends (in a statement of defiance to her father) to be a lesbian.
Elliott, who has handled a broad range of material from very broad comedy like Welcome to Woop Woop (1997) to the classic thriller genre with Eye of the Beholder (1999) and his signature film, The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert (1994), makes it seem deceptively easy to bring home the comic bacon ... or should that be ride on the sheep's back.
He has matured significantly as a filmmaker, seen in the way he crafts and welds scenes together (with help from editor Sue Blainey) and how he directs his well chosen cast. It's also evident in the small touches that deepen the film's sense of veracity; subtle details like wedding guests and staff walking past in the deep background of dialogue-driven two-shots, which many filmmakers wouldn't bother with.
Costume designer Lizzy Gardiner (who worked on Priscilla with Elliott and earned an Oscar for it) and veteran production designer George Liddle contribute greatly to the film's visual appeal and writer Dean Craig (Death at a Funeral) shows he has a great eye and ear for comedy - which Elliott spices up with his unique (and pungently Australian) sense of the ridiculous. Great fun.
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STEPH ELLIOT INTERVIEW
A FEW BEST MEN (MA15+)
CAST: Rebel Wilson, Olivia Newton-John, Xavier Samuel, Tim Draxl, Kris Marshall, Elizabeth Debicki, Kevin Bishop, Laura Brent, Steve Le Marquand, Margaux Harris
PRODUCER: Antonia Barnard, Gary Hamilton, Laurence Malkin,
DIRECTOR: Stephan Elliott
SCRIPT: Dean Craig
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Stephen F. Windon
EDITOR: Sue Blainey
MUSIC: Guy Gross
PRODUCTION DESIGN: George Liddle
RUNNING TIME: 97 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Icon
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: January 26, 2012