There’s a chance, as there always is, that me not loving Friends And Strangers is more to do with my own ignorance than any failings in the movie itself. It is an awkward comedy drama that doesn’t seem to really say anything. It may be providing some layered commentary on different types of relationships (be they friendships, intimate connections, or the relationship that Australia has with the rest of the world), but it may also just not do enough to make any of its points well.
Things begin with Ray (Fergus Wilson) and Alice (Emma Diaz) enjoying a little adventure in the middle of nowhere. Both are recovering from some various people problems, to put it delicately. Thinking there may be some chemistry building between them, Ray makes the first of many embarrassing mistakes in a movie that seems to want us to cringe for him at least once in every main sequence.
Written and directed by James Vaughan, making his feature debut after a number of shorts, this is the kind of film you can imagine easily gaining a load of critical adoration while it does the festival circuit. It all looks nice enough, with focused and clean composition that helps to keep things bright and breezy, even as the script tries to drag things down towards what could easily be an idea of hell for anyone who has ever experienced any episode of social awkwardness. Vaughan doesn’t rush himself, and at least doesn’t make the mistake of packing everything possible into what he may view as his one chance to make a feature film, but the way he seems to stick rigidly to a narrative style, and viewpoint, that clearly amuses himself will divide viewers. Comedy is highly subjective, and I can see others loving this as much as I disliked it.
Wilson is fine in his role (a nervy and stumbling performance that reminded me of Domnhall Gleeson), but his character rarely feels like the sort of person you want to stick with for the entire duration of a movie. Things perk up when you also have work from Diaz, Amelia Conway, Jacki Rochester (playing Ray’s mother, Carol), or Greg Zimbulis (playing a fairly rambling rich man quick to comment on everything that fleetingly passes through his mind).
The one comment that seems to sum up the movie, and the ideas it wants to explore, regards someone who has stolen some money and made enormous profit from that crime. How much would they be required to pay back? Theft and reparations may have been just as appropriate a title, but it would only work if Vaughan was able to actually make his point clearly and intelligently. Unfortunately, he can’t. So viewers are left with something that wobbles between the hazy and lazy and the crashingly unsubtle.
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