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ANY QUESTIONS FOR BEN

SYNOPSIS:
For 27-year-old Ben (Josh Lawson), life is great. A well paid job, friends, parties, girls and nothing to tie him down. But when he is invited back to his old school to join several other ex-students including Alex (Rachael Taylor) in talking about their personal achievements, Ben is the only speaker not to be asked a question by the school kids. This triggers a year of soul searching and seeking answers from his dad (Rob Carlton) and mates, including Nick (Daniel Henshall), who asks Ben to be his best man. But nightclubbing and ski-ing in New Zealand with his flatmate Andy (Christian Clark) doesn't provide the answers. Meanwhile, Ben keeps putting off the chance to see or communicate with Alex who pops back and forth from Yemen, where she is a charity worker, and doesn't realise the answer lies within himself.

Review by Louise Keller:
At last, an Australian film that's as sophisticated and slick as its cities, yet down to earth and in touch with our sardonic sense of humour. It's about the little things and the big things in life: the things that matter and those that don't, but should. It's about coasting through life trying to achieve something but never being quite sure what it looks like or what it actually is.

The latest movie from Working Dog, the makers of The Castle and The Dish, is a movie about the meaning of life. But don't worry; there is nothing pretentious about it. Director Rob Sitch makes sure of that. Sitch, together with screenwriters Santo Cilauro and Tom Gleisner have concocted a keenly observed, highly entertaining and funny script that nails the essence of life in the city for one successful, well paid advertising executive who is struggling to enjoy the ride.

The Ernest Hemingway quote 'Never confuse movement with action' at the beginning of the film, might have been thought up especially for Ben (Josh Lawson), a 27 year old who seems to have it all: good looks, style, money, position - and no shortage of girls. The trouble is, everything is transient: Ben never stays in the same job for long, never has a place he can call home and never keeps a girlfriend for more than three months. In fact, he has never asked a girl out - his relationships have just evolved, like the rest of his life. He lives in a commitment-free zone.

Ben has a lot of questions to ask his friends, the irony being that no-one has any questions to ask him, after being invited to speak about his personal achievements at his old school. It doesn't help that Ben talks after the beautiful Alex (Rachael Taylor), who now works in Yemen as a United Nations human rights lawyer; re-branding vodka seems insignificant next to saving the world. There's an instant spark between the two of them, but it's up to Ben to make the next move. And he hesitates... He doesn't know how to follow through.

Fast paced with snappy dialogue that zips from one thing to the next, we are pulled by the film's energy and engaged by what it has to say. Much of the film's charm comes from its tone. Sentiments are articulated without camouflage - often with hilarious results. The best part is that all the humour is deadly serious and played totally straight. Even the cameo by John Howard (the actor) as the wedding priest is underplayed, enhancing the humour, instead of squashing it with a fly-swat of overkill.

As Ben recognises he is going through some kind of early life crisis, he asks for advice from friends and family. I love the scenes between Ben and his mentor Sam (Lachy Hulme), the materialistic restaurateur who thinks best with his foot on the pedal of his revved-up black Ferrari. Hulme is especially good. The sequence involving Katerina Sinova (Liliya May), a leggy blonde, well ranked Russian tennis player targeted by Ben's new company to promote their tennis gear, who invites Ben into her bedroom, is attention grabbing stuff and feels a little like reality TV.

As Ben tries to work himself out by asking questions of his flatmate Andy (Christian Clark), his father (Rob Carlton) and friends Nick (Daniel Henshall) and Em (Felicity Ward), it never seems to be the right time. Nor do the answers ever come out right. Much of the humour comes from well observed reflections of everyday life - like the scenes in which Ben and Alex are trying to sort out their relationship, but are constantly interrupted.

All the cast shines brightly and there is not a single false note. Henshall makes a big leap from murderer Bunting in Snowtown to the affable, insecure Nick; Ward is great as the straight-shooter Em, and Clark is a nice presence as the well-meaning, but rather insensitive Andy. It is undoubtedly however, the star quality of Lawson and Taylor that gives the film its pulse. Lawson has an urbane, leading man quality, while Taylor exudes charisma and photographs like a dream. We simply cannot take our eyes off her. There's good chemistry between them, too.

Melbourne has never looked more stylish through cinematographer Stefan Duscio's lens, depicting the cityscape, the night life, the ambience and the lifestyle. With The Castle, Working Dog put its finger on what Australian audiences wanted. Seems as though fifteen years later, they can sense it again.
First published in the Sun Herald

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
The film signals its message early, with an opening card quoting Ernest Hemingway's alert, never to confuse motion with action. Ben (Josh Lawson) takes an awful long time - well, nearly two hours - to learn this simple message as he busies himself moving - but not acting. He is restless and moves flats and jobs almost as often as he changes underwear (we don't know this, I am using poetic licence).

He is surrounded by Melbourne's prettiest women, glitziest bars, loveliest restaurants (including my favourite, Becco) and he has a well paid job. The filmmakers say they were attracted to the idea of a generation in their late 20s who moved freely in the world of plenty but often felt empty. If they're right, they've tuned in to a social mood with sharp eyes, thanks to the writers and the young team around them who provided input.

The jaunty pace and the bravura style at the beginning of the film ushers in a mood of much motion - with promise of action endlessly delayed, teasing us. It's a challenge to keep this tone going, having Ben constantly drawing back from the brink of decision making so that he can actually DO something meaningful. There is lovely irony in the wedding scene where as best man he ends his witty, jokey speech on a serious note, speaking of the simple power of the words 'I do'. If only he took the message to heart.

To meet this challenge, the film is blessed with a sharp cast ready to tread the fine line between comedy and drama that works like glue to hold the film together. Daniel Henshall sheds his (ACTAA award winning) evil John Bunting persona from Snowtown as the warm and funny friend, Nick; Felicity Ward is wonderful as Em, Nick's squeeze; Lachy Hulme lashes out as the flamboyant Melbourne nightclub owner and Ferrari driver, Sam, who is self appointed mentor to Ben; and Rob Carlton is amusing as Ben's well intentioned but clunky dad.

Along the way, we go to the Australian Open, where Ben is a guest in the player's box of Russian star Katerina (Liliya May), trying to tame her loud and aggressive dad (drawn from real life, as we tennis fans note with glee); we ski the beautiful open slopes of New Zealand and we even visit Yemen. But it's mostly Melbourne and its nightlife that we see in flashes, under a busy list of songs from over a dozen artists including Powderfinger, Silver Chair, The Zombies, Mama Kin and Hot Chocolate among others.

Falling comfortably into the rom-com genre, the film indulges in several collage scenes, in which we are nursed along by music as unheard characters go through a variety of actions (eg walking in park). It's a bit of a lazy cliché, but the film can stand it.

Chirpy and bright, often lol funny and with something to say, AQFB is a contemporary take on a generation that really is lucky - if only it can cash in on that luck. If the film has a flaw it's in the excessive stretching of the material, given there are not enough layers or complexities to give it ballast. But it's impeccably made and has a big heart.



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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 2
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 0

ANY QUESTIONS FOR BEN (M)
(Aust, 2011)

CAST: Josh Lawson, Rachael Taylor, Daniel Henshall, Felicity Ward, Christian Clark, Jodi Gordon, David James, Ed Kavalee, Rob Carlton, Tracy Mann, Lachy Hulme, Liliya May

PRODUCER: Santo Cilauro, Tom Gleisner, Michael Hirsch, Rob Sitch

DIRECTOR: Rob Sitch

SCRIPT: Santo Cilauro, Tom Gleisner,

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Stefan Duscio

EDITOR: Stu Morley, Phil Simon

MUSIC: James Sidebottom, Jane Kennedy

PRODUCTION DESIGN: James Clark

RUNNING TIME: 114 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: February 9, 2012







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