Catherine Waterford (Anna Lise Phillips) returns to Australia after years overseas escaping her mother, just in time to have her mother, Katya (Anne Looby) die. A glamorous extrovert with a matching wardrobe, Katya loved the fast life. Now she returns to help her daughter – but it might be a bit late. And some secrets might be haunting the ghost herself.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Treading the well worn path of movies about dead people who benevolently haunt their loved ones, WillFull manages to inject some invention into the premise by way of sheer audacity. This works best in the film’s second half, where the dramatic meets the fanciful with a nice payoff that brings tears to the eyes. The performances and the production design match each other as rather fruity manifestations of a single idea based on the character of life-loving Katya and her hedonistic lifestyle. Anna Lise Phillips carries the film with a young Judy Davis-esque performance, but I would have wished for a truly theatrical, larger than life Katya to make the dynamics more…er, dynamic. Great support work from the cast and focused direction from Rebel Penfold Russell give the film various tones, from edgy to rosy to dramatic. The magic realism required to make us believe in a ghost who only one character sees works well, and the music – both source and original – is fitting, if not wildly original or challenging.
Review by Louise Keller:
A mischievous story about love and loss, WillFull is a bitter-sweet comedic drama from first time director Rebel Penfold-Russell, whose touch imprints plenty of style and pizzazz. The film simply drips with colour – both visually and through its at times larger than life characters. It’s a fun premise relating to the sensitive theme of death, and the balance between tragedy and comedy is a carefully considered fine line. Of course, the underlying issues are serious, with issues about family feuds, misunderstandings and acceptance at the core. The story strengthens as it goes along and the final hour is an entertaining romp full of surprises. Anna Lise Phillips is lovely as Catherine, displaying all the insecurities and frailties of a young woman whose traumatic childhood catches up with her. She has fresh screen presence, and I like the way her childhood presence is integrated into the scenes, when she is taken back to her childhood. Anne Looby is striking as the clawing, dramatic Katya, and some of her scenes with Catherine when other characters are present, but cannot see her, are very funny indeed. Katya, draped in ruby red from luscious lips to flowing dressy attire, looks as though she has stepped from a vibrant, surreal painting. I mean, what sort of woman asks that her will be read from the heights of a ferris wheel? The character lends itself beautifully to George Liddle’s splendid production design, well showcased by Steve Arnold’s skilled lens, and the music sets a contagious pace with tunes like Bossa Nova Baby. The whole cast is excellent, bringing to life the beguiling mix of characters from the outspoken Ginny (short for Gin and Tonic) to the self-loving success-seminar guru and pushy American side-kick. Look out too, for Priscilla director Steph Elliott in a cameo as a customs official. WillFull is a different genre for an Australian film, and offers an amusing interlude through some thought provoking windows.
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C.T. HOWELL INTERVIEW by Andrew L. Urban
CAST: Anna Lise Phillips, C. Thomas Howell, Anne Looby, Charles ‘Bud’ Tingwell, John Gaden, Jennifer Clare
PRODUCER: Vicky Watson
DIRECTOR: Rebel Penfold Russell
SCRIPT: Harry Cripps
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Steve Arnold ACS
EDITOR: Nicholas Beauman
MUSIC: Antony Partos
PRODUCTION DESIGN: George Liddle
RUNNING TIME: 95 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Latent Image
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: August 29, 2002; Brisbane: October 10, 2002
VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Columbia TriStar Entertainment
VIDEO RELEASE: March 19, 2003 (Also on DVD)