Elspeth Dickens (Laura Michelle Kelly) has agreed to be a stay-at-home mum while husband James (Ronan Keating) follows his dream of saving whales. Then after a few years, it will be Elspeth's turn to return to her singing career. Elspeth struggles with the isolation and constant pressure of caring for two exuberant boys. James gives Elspeth a webcam so they can speak on the net, but in the Southern Ocean, he's always out of range. In her kitchen Elspeth starts to sing her 'sink songs' to the world. At first, no one is watching but with the help of a local boffin she's logged on to the world's social media - and finds an audience, including advertising executive Cassandra Wolfe (Magda Szubanski), who is desperately seeking a figurehead for the "Goddess" campaign, a new laptop designed just for women. As Elspeth's star rises, her now strained marriage becomes a top-rating real life soap drama, leaving Elspeth with the biggest decision of her life.
Review by Louise Keller:
Bursting with a vibrant joie de vivre, the dreams and aspirations of a housewife explode in a colourful musical fantasy, complete with toe-tapping songs, an uplifting hyper-reality and endearing characters that charm us from the outset. The screen adaptation of Joanna Weinberg's one woman show Sink Songs, about a lonely housewife who uses songs and technology to share her life and fantasies, glides to the screen effortlessly and with great energy, veracity and freshness, largely due to the knock-out central performance by West End musical star Laura Michelle Kelly.
Kelly leaves an indelible image, as Elspeth Dickens, standing at the kitchen sink in a rural Tasmanian homestead, discarding hot pink rubber gloves, one finger at a time, with as much finesse as a stripper. She is every bit as tantalising - albeit her two year old twins wreak havoc in the next room and the goat nibbles the pot plant on the window sill. This is director Mark Lamprell's first film since My Mother Frank (2000), and his passion clearly shows. Lamprell's adaptation and direction well capture the pent up frustration of a young mother who finds herself struggling and admits to moments of self-confessed madness through her songs. There's something real and down to earth about the lyrics that reflect Elspeth's state of mind.
The film trips from reality to fantasy in a rocket-smooth carpet ride and I love the scene in the Sydney hotel room on the night before the Goddess computer ad campaign shoot, when Elspeth decides to have a 'private party' and that 'nobody's invited (cos that's what I decided)'. Like those glued to their webcams, eyes locked on the action, we are flies on the wall watching her sing, dance and twirl in her red dress, bath towel and silk pyjamas, while clasping rose-petals. This is one private party we definitely do not want to miss. The shoot itself is great fun, when Elspeth's kitchen sink backdrop morphs to embrace different cultures and even species.
The film's frivolous tone embraces its over-the-top reality, yet its themes are solidly grounded. Love, family and ambitions are all happily jumbled together in a rainbow fantasy, with sequins, songs and dancing routines as trimmings. In his first acting role, pop star Ronan Keating exudes charisma as the devoted husband and father with a passion for saving whales. There's a nice spark between Keating and Kelly, exuding a familiarity allowing credibility as lovers, parents and friends. Australian icon Magda Szubanski is great fun as Cassandra Wolfe, the compulsive eater, ultra glamorous agency head, whose big moment comes as she belts out a knock out production number wearing gold sequins. The two year old twins who demonstrate why it's called 'the terrible twos' are adorable; they are differentiable by the fact that one wears angel wings.
The Tasmanian countryside looks a treat and the beauty of Sydney Harbour and the Opera House is shown off to perfection by cinematographer Damian Wyvill. A constantly moving feast of happiness is on display, with choreography to match.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Contemporary, relevant and occasionally moving, Goddess is a duo-tone film; one tone is grounded in the serious reality of the modern woman's dilemma, how to have it all. The other is a magic realist world of musical cinema where make believe and exaggeration jiggle for attention. Whenever we are engaged by the serious tone - even when songs are involved - the film works really well. And then it changes tone and plays it for laughs. The most serious subjects often make for the best comedies, but the filmmakers mustn't lose their nerve.
Three outstanding leads provide a deep talent pool for the film and they each deliver the film's best moments. West End star Laura Michelle Kelly is terrific as Elspeth, creating a genuine, complex, likeable, conflicted character whose every emotion is written on her face. We like her, we want her to succeed and we understand her decisions. In fact, she has several great moments.
The indefatigable Magda Szubanski plays Cassandra Wolfe, the ad agency power tool and not only gives us a character she hasn't presented before, she does a fabulous job selling her one song, the showstopping, Do You Know Who I Am. Not since Herod taunted Jesus to walk across his swimming pool has there been a musical show-off number as good as this, in which every element works beautifully, including the spectacular choreography.
Irish pop star Ronan Keating has the somewhat thankless role of Jimmy, the father constantly leaving home on his whale watch crusade. This ensures that we see him (when he's there) as a decent, caring, modern man, and his good nature helps redeem the film's deeper gender clash elements. (Some women may find that the film's message may be perceived as politically incorrect in these nervous and heightened gender-clash times, even if it is written by a woman, but I'm not going there. It's a movie, not a manual.)
The film's strengths are the songs and the settings, plus the inventive and clever choreography by Kelley Abbey, not limited to Szubanski's routine. Its weaker-spots are the abandonment of the dramatic tone in favour of sketch comedy in scenes involving neighbours and minor support characters. But it always redeems itself with one its effective songs, where lyrics and melody work really well, either as exuberant flashes or reflective ballads.
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MAGDA SZUBANSKI INTERVIEW
by Andrew L. Urban
CAST: Laura Michelle Kelly, Ronan Keating, Magda Szubanski, Dustin Clare, Hugo Johnstone-Burt, Tamsin Carroll, Corinne Grant, Pia Miranda, Natalie Tran, Cameron Lyon,
PRODUCER: Andrena Finlay, Richard Keddie
DIRECTOR: Mark Lamprell
SCRIPT: Mark Lamprell, Joanna Weinberg (one woman show Sink Songs by Joanna Weinberg)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Damian Wyvill
MUSIC: Bryony Marks
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Annie Beauchamp
OTHER: Musical Direction Judy Morris, choreography Kelley Abbey
RUNNING TIME: 104 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: March 14, 2013