VERY ANNIE MARY
Annie-Mary (Rachel Griffiths) lives under the thumb of her singing baker father (Jonathan Pryce), wistfully wasting her life away in a Welsh valley, after her mother’s death coincided with a singing scholarship in Milan, which she won as a teenager but was unable to take. But her father’s voice is the only one the villagers of Ogw know these days; he flaunts it in church and through loudspeakers on top of his bread delivery van. She dreams of stepping out of her father’s shadow, and even of buying her own house, but it takes a series of fateful turns – including a fund raising variety competition which she inadvertently helps win – before her best friend’s (Joanna Page) deathbed wishes prompt her to find the strength to stand up for herself and regain her self esteem – and her voice.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
The script is a scream, by all accounts, winning prizes left, right and almost centre (details on request) and some of its qualities have been transferred successfully to the screen. But not all. Apparently Sugarman began working on it right after she finished film school in 1995. I mention this because her lack of experience at the time may explain the triteness of the underlying story. It’s Sugarman’s sense of humour that would have impressed judges of script competitions, I imagine, not the bucketfuls of sentimentality and forced laughs that come through on the screen.
I didn’t much like Sugarman’s Mad Cows, either: I said of that screenplay that “The written version is undoubtedly funnier, with its surrealism and black farce elements (and the writing itself) but on the screen, Mad Cows is a cowpat in the field of cinema.” Same here; perhaps Sugarman should write more and direct less. The punch of the script also helps explain the presence of Pryce and Griffiths, neither of whom come out of this unscathed. Pryce pursues a rather featureless character while Griffiths chases her woman-child Annie-Mary largely characterised by gormlessness. The problem seems to be the uncertainty of tone Sugarman wants to achieve; the film veers from farce to faux-tragedy to black comedy and occasional scenes of straight drama. But if her lead actors are set confusing emotional touchstones, most of the supporting cast seem to have worked out what makes their characters tick naturally. Not much use is made of the Welsh hills and valleys, and the pace is laborious.
Review by Louise Keller:
Peppered by its snapshot of life in a small Welsh town, Very Annie-Mary is an unusual coming of age story of a young girl who defies the odds to be able to live life ‘her way’. This is writer/director Sara Sugarman’s second feature film, made not long after Mad Cows (1998), which was based on Kathy Lette’s very funny book.
But it has taken four years for Very Annie-Mary to be released in Australia, and although Rachel Griffiths is wonderful in the title role and the film does deliver some charming moments, it suffers from the same malaise as Mad Cows – the humour is forced. If only Sugarman had allowed these unique characters to evolve naturally.
They’re a quirky and colourful bunch: the dottery priest who likes custard tarts and scratch ‘n sniff bibles, the gay couple who run the sweet store, the four unlikely women who are practising to form a YMCA-style pop group, Mrs Ifans who goes to church for more than the hymns and bed-ridden Bethan Bevan with the shaggy dog in sunglasses. Set in the picturesque village of Ogw in a Southern Welsh valley, the setting is idyllic, with its winding roads, rolling green hills and a close-knit community town who all meet in the church.
In the very first scene we meet Annie-Mary’s father (Jonathan Pryce, memorable) as he is belting out Puccini at the top of his voice, wearing a Pavarotti face mask, and driving his baker’s van fitted with loudspeakers. Pryce’s Jack Pugh is a selfish and self-centred man who has spent years destroying his daughter’s morale and self-confidence, and it’s in the early scenes that Pryce is allowed to shine and also utilise his beautiful singing voice. But when Pugh suffers a stroke and Annie is forced to carry him up and down stairs, reality is abandoned, the action becomes farcical and we no longer believe. The characters become caricatures. My favourite moment occurs at the talent quest, when the would-be pop group’s intended routine becomes redundant and a last minute alternative urgently is required. The spontaneity and humour of this scene simply soars and I wish all the film could have achieved this kind of effortless hilarity.
There’s a moral to the story – be yourself, as Annie-Mary is told. And Sara Sugarman could well take heed – to allow her characters to be themselves, instead of pushing them into a contrivance.
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Unfavourable: 2 (Andrew, Louise)
VERY ANNIE MARY (M)
CAST: Rachel Griffiths (singing voice of Meriel Andrews), Jonathan Pryce, Joanna Page, Rhys Miles Thomas, Ruth Madoc, Donna Edwards, Josh Richards
PRODUCER: Graham Broadbent, Damian Jones
DIRECTOR: Sara Sugarman
SCRIPT: Sara Sugarman
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Barry Ackroyd
EDITOR: Robin Sales
MUSIC: Stephen Warbe
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Alice Normington
RUNNING TIME: 104 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Becker
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: June 26, 2003 (advance screenings June 20, 21, 22, 2003)
VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: AV Channel
VIDEO RELEASE: November 26, 2003