ILLUSTRATED FAMILY DOCTOR, THE
Gary Kelp (Samuel Johnson) is shocked to discover that his father's body was 'harvested' for organ transplants - with his mum's (Sarah Pierce) blessing. Back at work for the publishers, Info Digest, Gary's computer screen pulses with goitres, tumours and diseased monstrosities, images from The Illustrated Family Doctor, a medical guide that Gary is condensing for the mail-order market. The assignment and images disturb Gary, but veteran colleague Ray (Colin Friels) encourages him. Then he starts inheriting the symptoms he is reading about: a rash on his neck travels to his arms and then his face. His eyes become infected. He starts to piss blood. Jennifer (Kestie Morassi), Gary's girlfriend is a nurse but she can't help him - besides, she's sick of their relationship. Meanwhile Gary finds himself more and more intrigued by Ray's daughter, the mysterious and secretive Christine (Jessica Napier). Company boss Bob Boundary (Brian Meegan) is starting to carve up his work force in the name of efficiency. And a mysterious underworld figure known as Snapper Thompson (Paul Sonkkila) is stalking Gary in the company corridors.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Decorated by several quietly amusing moments, The Illustrated Family Doctor is an ambitious attempt at adapting a work of literature into a work of cinema. The novel's imagery and symbolism is not easily captured and the characters aren't readily drawn. It's always problematic and while there are touches of brilliance in this film, there are too many flat, unresolved elements to make it engaging.
The tone of the film is downbeat, which is not necessarily a negative at all; I am drawn to the melancholy and find it more interesting than the bright and bubbly. But the characters must be tangible; I can watch a credible, three dimensional character do nothing. And the elements taken from a book can be selective, but they need to be connected and cohesive. Otherwise, there is the risk of boring those who are not in on the novel's joke/s. Or it has to be as wildly visionary as The Singing Detective, where fantasy and reality fuse into painful but high voltage cinema.
The performances can't be faulted; every one is outstanding, from Samuel Johnson's rotting Gary to Colin Friels' enigmatic Ray to Brian Meegan's wonderfully observed and real Bob the boss. Kestie Morassi and Jessica Harper are terrific and deliver contrasting femmes, and even the smallest cameos are memorable, eg; in the hospital scenes, where Gary's room mates provide totally unnecessary fun. Sacha Horler's talents make her relatively small but important role as Gary's sister a really haunting character.
So while the film celebrates its anti-traditionalist sensibilities, and has the confidence of its conviction even when the material is superfluous, it can't capitalise on it. It plays as an episodic collection, and suffers from the staginess of it. There is certainly a prodigious talent at work in Kriv Stenders' direction, but the script could have been keel-hauled to streamline it, to give it more edge and more dynamic shape, and to release the black energy that presumably drives the novel. Ironically, that's what Ray does: cut out the superfluous bits. He should have had a crack at editing this script.
Review by Louise Keller:
A laid-back, black comedy that focuses on death and illnesses, The Illustrated Family Doctor is an occasionally quirky film with some great ideas, but limited appeal. There are too few laughs to be funny, and for the most part, the characters are less than endearing. I haven't read David Snell's novel, but I imagine that the written word could convey more than this screen version, which he has re-written with director Kriv Stenders. The written word plays a big role in the film, and there's a memorable early scene in which an unemployed writer explains why he should never talk about what he is writing. It dissipates creative energies, he says, like jerking off. His notion of building up tension until the load is unbearable is possibly the intention of the filmmakers, but there is little tension and Stenders has been unable to paint the story with the dark tinge to which he obviously aspires.
As a stark contrast to the dark themes, there is plenty of colour on the walls and doors, which are bright orange, green, red and yellow. Each segment of the story is also separated by a brightly coloured slide, indicating what stage of change/progress the central character is experiencing. The Illustrated Family Doctor introduces us to Gary Kelp (Samuel Johnson) who is struggling with the changes in his life. In particular the issues of life and death seem to be circling him like a shark honing in for the kill. Firstly, the death of his father hits him hard, and the reality of his mother's agreement to donate body parts to science preys on his mind. To make matters worse, the fact that he has been given the responsibility to condense a journal about health and illness, is making him physically ill. As he peruses the text with its graphic images of sores and ugly symptoms of every malaise you could possibly imagine, he begins to manifest symptoms - a rash, inflamed eye and abdominal pain.
Although it is not anything like it, the film reminds me a little of The Rage in Placid Lake, in the way we experience life through its central character. But like Ben Lee's Placid Lake, Gary Kelp suffers from the syndrome of not making us care for him or his plight. Along the way, we meet his sister (Sacha Horler), best friend Carl (Jason Gann), his live-in girlfriend Jennifer (Kestie Morassi), the alluring but troubled Christine (Jessica Napier) and his colleague Ray Gill (Colin Friels), who is his role model. Friels is terrific as the editor who sits in the revered chair, condensing fiction novels. His Ray Gill has long given up on questioning life; now his only concession is to save passages of text involving minor characters that appeal to him on floppy discs, which he stores in his top left hand drawer. Friels injects such authority in every role he plays, and his performance for me, is the film's highlight. But all the performances shine, including Paul Sonkkila's underworld crime figure Snapper Thompson, whose life is too colourful for black and white reproduction and Brian Meegan, whose characterization of slimy boss Bob is very real.
The Illustrated Family Doctor is ultimately a coming of age film, in which the protagonist tries to work out which pieces of his life are important and which can be deleted. Life, death, and all the body parts in between are the mainstay of the plot. Perhaps harsher editing may have resulted in humour that is sharper, that teeters more provocatively on the edge.
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SAMUEL JOHNSON INTERVIEW
ILLUSTRATED FAMILY DOCTOR, THE (MA)
CAST: Samuel Johnson, Colin Friels, Jessica Napier, Brian Meegan, Sacha Horler, Kestie Morassi, Sarah Pierce
PRODUCER: Catherine Kerr
DIRECTOR: Kriv Stenders
SCRIPT: Kriv Stenders, David Snell (novel by David Snell)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Kevin Hayward
EDITOR: Denise Haratzis
MUSIC: Tom Ellard
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Elizabeth Mary Moore
RUNNING TIME: 100 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Palace
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: March 3, 2005
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