RAGE IN PLACID LAKE, THE
From as young as 5, Placid Lake (Ben Lee) has been different, and encouraged to be so by his hippy parents Sylvia (Miranda Richardson) and Doug Lake (Garry McDonald). Taunted and bullied mercilessly by his peers, he did form a strong bond with Gemma Taylor (Rose Byrne), a girl whose mother had died, and whose father sees her as a future Marie Curie – and whose brilliant mind also sets her outside the norm. As they grow up, they share a need to find ‘the norm’ so they’d fit in – but they avoid turning their friendship into a sexual relationship. Things get desperate when Placid decides to secretly take a normal job at a large insurance company, cuts his hair and takes to wearing a suit in an attempt to satisfy both his parents and his need for fitting in.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Many teenagers (and others) will appreciate Placid Lake’s torturous circumstances, as being different in any way at all seems to prize open most youngster’s instinct to harm or even kill anything ‘foreign’, for fear of it being dangerous. The primitive response is usually taken under control and even eradicated by maturing adults (though by no means in all cases – eg; gay bashing) but that doesn’t help the victims at the time. This is the trigger theme for Tony McNamara’s screenplay, glued to the theme of ‘being yourself’ as a natural extension – and closure – of it.
The film manages to hit some comic keynotes in the first act, mostly by presenting its characters in larger than life dimensions, especially mum and dad Lake. This creates a problem, though, because they are cut adrift from the reality needed to drive the dramatic engine for the film. They become caricatures, and while they are entertaining and cleverly performed, we never really believe (or sense) they are real forces acting on Placid.
In the second act, when Placid becomes a junior executive, the support characters in the insurance office provide the film with good opportunities to make some of the film’s editorial points and this is the film’s more successful section, even though it all lacks the pace and energy the material demands. Rose Byrne is outstanding as Gemma, pert and bright and sensitive yet strong, a well rounded characterisation that is engaging from start to finish. In Ben Lee’s Placid we see the character’s dilemma but never quite connect – which is true of the film as a whole. But the film does have enough truth for its young target audience to be entertained, and perhaps enlightened.
Review by Louise Keller:
All our expectations are turned on their head and tossed aside in The Rage in Placid Lake, a darkly comic coming of age story about a young man who tries desperately to fit in. The story originated as a stage play called The Café Latte Kid, which had a run at the Sydney Theatre Company a few years ago, and while Tony McNamara’s adaptation of his stage play works in part, it’s really the concept that shines best of all.
The script at times feels somewhat stilted, even though much of the film’s charm shines through with its wacky characters. The characters are well devised and we can clearly see where Placid Lake is coming from. When we meet his parents, his name is not so surprising. After all, his mother is a hippie-cum-lesbian who promotes calm, while his father’s a guru-counsellor who can’t get angry. And poor Placid, in a bid to become acceptable to others, takes a boring office job and tries to lead a ‘normal’ life. But his parents’ response is not what he expects: they are horrified by his job and conscientiousness, and would rather he smoked a bit of weed and ‘hung about’. Placid quickly learns that the best way to keep everyone happy, is to ‘be all things to all people’ and to ‘take the path of least resistance’, but finds that leading a double life is not successful either.
Australian musician Ben Lee plays the brilliantly inventive and eccentric Placid Lake, and in doing so reminds me a little of a young Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate. But while he does a pretty good job of Placid, he never makes his character a totally sympathetic one. Instead, it’s his relationship with his ‘Doris Day scientist girlfriend’ Gemma, that’s the most compelling part of the story, with Gemma the pivot, wonderfully brought to life by the enchanting and very talented Rose Byrne. Byrne has the kind of screen charisma that makes you really care for her and she makes Gemma very real. Watch out too for a tiny cameo by Lee’s actress girlfriend Claire Danes, who appears only too briefly. I really like Gary McDonald and Miranda Richardson’s scene stealing neurotic parents, plus there are some very funny moments with an unfortunate office-worker called Anton who is eaten up by jealousy by Placid’s fast-track to success in the world of filing cabinets and office-sex. It may not totally satisfy the rage intended, but the ideas are stimulating and we do enjoy the ride.
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BEN LEE INTERVIEW by Louise Keller
RAGE IN PLACID LAKE, THE (M)
CAST: Ben Lee, Miranda Richardson, Rose Byrne, Garry McDonald
PRODUCER: Marion McGowan
DIRECTOR: Tony McNamara
SCRIPT: Tony McNamara (from his play, The Café Latte Kid)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Ellery Ryan
EDITOR: Lee Smith
MUSIC: Cezary Skubiszewski
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Roger Ford
RUNNING TIME: 90 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Palace
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: August 21, 2003
VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Fox Home Entertainment
VIDEO RELEASE: January 15, 2004