Ralph Williams (Michael Caton) and Vince Hopgood (Paul Hogan) are life long mates who live in the country town of Yackandandah, NE Victoria. When Vince receives a letter from his ex-wife's accountant informing him he needs to pay years in back taxes, he turns to Ralph for support. A new law has just been passed, giving gay couples the same rights as married couples, including a retrospective tax law, enabling them to claim rebates for up to 5 years. Vince wants Ralph to pretend they are gay, claim the rebate.... and no one in town will ever know. Ralph reluctantly agrees, but regrets it when an investigator (Pete Postlethwaite) is sent to audit their claim. Ralph and Vince have a week to learn how to be convincing as a loving homosexual couple in a small town who knows them as anything but.
Review by Louise Keller:
A gentle comedy about mateship, Strange Bedfellows relies on its key casting of Paul Hogan and Michael Caton to squeeze every drop of goodwill and humour from its premise of two men pretending to be gay. In some ways it is an old fashioned film, relying on the narrow response (homophobic, or otherwise) of country people to homosexuality, so it is crucial that we engage with Ralph and Vince from the very beginning, in order to make the most of the trip.
Writer/director Dean Murphy concentrates wholeheartedly on the personalities of the characters in this, his follow up to the highly enjoyable 2000 black comedy Muggers. The material is less edgy this time, and all efforts are made to develop the characters and allow us to feel as though we understand the environment in which they live. Roger Lanser's cinematography draws us into this picturesque country town, where everyone knows everyone, as well as their business.
It's hard to flesh out a one-joke premise and remain inventive throughout, but for the most part Murphy succeeds. Some of the early attempts of humour seem a little forced, but as Ralph and Vince head off to Sydney to research the gay joints, there is definite bite in some of the scenes. Caton looks remarkably good dressed in black leather and chains (even though he can't quite bring himself to remove his boxers that show through in the bum-less trousers). In fact I really enjoyed Caton's performance throughout. From the time his Ralph complains "I don't want anything thinking I'm a poof,' to his improvising fantasies about his imaginary love affair with Vince to impress the auditor, to his shining moment of truth at the fireman's ball, when he somehow has to come up with a solution to satisfy everyone. And he does. It's a terrific moment and Caton's delivery is terrific for the payoff. Also impressive is Kestie Morassi (Dirty Deeds) as Ralph's daughter, and the moments between them are filled with emotional truths. The camera loves Morassi and she lifts every scene that she is in.
Paul Hogan is less successful as Vince; everyone loves Hoges, but since the Crocodile Dundee days, that spark that endeared him to us, has dimmed. When I look at Vince, I can only see Hoges acting like Vince, and although that it itself is not disagreeable, it lessens the emotional impact of the film.
Pete Postlethwaite has good presence, but is somewhat wasted as the auditor, while the rest of the cast works well. Glynn Nicholas gives a fun turn as the gay hairdresser with a secret; when he schools Ralph and Vince in the art of 'gayness', he uses 'Marilyn Monroe crossed with a bit of penguin' as his inspiration. There are shades here from The Bird Cage, although Hoges cannot compete with either Nathan Lane or Robin Williams. Roy Billing is as good as ever, and there's good support from the residents of the real Victorian country town of Yackandandah (population 450), most of whom make an appearance in the film.
Strange Bedfellows is a good-natured film that's made with such good intentions. It may not be the hilarious romp that we wish for, but it is nonetheless good entertainment for the undemanding.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
The premise - and the casting - is so good it sets up expectations the film doesn't quite deliver. The weakness is in the lack of dimension to the film. Like a tv sitcom, it relies on its single-storey premise to carry it through (in this case) to 100 minutes. It's worth 60. The first 20 minutes are far too repetitive and don't progress character or plot.
But the premise is all there is, as we move through the second act, and the promise of a second layer to the film in the form of Ralph's daughter (Kestie Morassi) and her partner is never really fulfilled. Still, Morassi is again notably excellent, and deserves a catapult in her career. But then the acting is the film's strong suit. Paul Hogan is gimmick free, empathetic and accessibly credible, while Michael Caton delivers a wonderfully warm character with enough complexity and self contradiction to be three dimensional.
The tone is mild mannered, endearing even - despite a few lightly used and well placed obscenities - and the initial, passť and discredited presentation of gay culture is balanced out as the film develops.
Beautifully photographed (but not in a schmalzy way) by Roger Lanser, the film has everything - except another six months in script development. To his credit, Dean Murphy reins in the film's tendency to be flimsy caricature, but it's a close call and Ralph's climactic speech can take at least half the credit for that. What the screenplay lacks is another level, a major subplot, or a damn good incident around which drama and tension can evolve, so that the basic premise is not stuck like a plucked chicken in the middle of the yard.
And you wouldn't kick a plucked chicken, would ya?
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MICHAEL CATON INTERVIEW
STRANGE BEDFELLOWS (M)
CAST: Paul Hogan, Michael Caton, Pete Postlethwaite, Amanda Monroe, Roy Billing, Christopher Kirby, Glynn Nicholas, Kestie Morassi, Alan Cassell, Shane Withington, Paula Duncan, Monica Maughan, Lucy Rechnitzer
PRODUCER: Nigel Odell, David Redman
DIRECTOR: Dean Murphy
SCRIPT: Dean Murphy, Stewart Faichney
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Roger Lanser ACS
EDITOR: Peter Carrodus
MUSIC: Dale Cornelius
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Ralph Moser
RUNNING TIME: 100 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Beckers
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: April 22, 2004
VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Magna Pacific
VIDEO RELEASE: September 8, 2004