A Month Of Sundays (PG). Director: Matthew Saville. Starring: Anthony LaPaglia, Julia Blake, John Clarke. 110 minutes
Writer-director Matthew Saville's accomplishments as a director of both prestige (Cloudstreet, The Slap) and popular (Hamish and Andy, Please Like Me) television are considerable. As a filmmaker he's brought his distinctive voice and vision to bear on the crime genre reconstructions Noise and Felony, without really nailing the execution. Sadly A Month of Sundays, while representing a change of direction for the filmmaker, repeats that pattern of ultimately falling short of the mark.
Which is surprising, as it dwells in a realm of edgy, contemporary suburban angst that Saville has explored very successfully in, especially, the television dramas he's worked on. The central character is Frank Mollard (LaPaglia), a divorced real-estate agent whose world-weariness is embodied in a hangdog slouch and an at-times incomprehensible monotone mumble. It takes little more than a glance to figure out Frank has lost enthusiasm for life, let alone a sense of joy.
The film starts out strongly, pitting the sadsack Frank against a garrulous, dry-witted foil in the form of his boss, Phillip Lang (John Clarke). In one brilliant scene, Frank and Phillip exchange droll barbs, jiving verbally to the beat of Bryony Marks' jazzy score, while vying with the lawn sprinkler in the yard of a house they are selling. There is a finicky energy to these scenes that contrasts with — and hints at the restless depths beneath — Frank's maudlin exterior.
"Essential to this sifting of family and belonging as central to the identity of suburban males, is a rumination on houses as homes versus property."
This terrific first portion of the film culminates in a moment of near-magic realism, wherein Frank arrives home and receives a phone call from someone he takes to be his dead mother. Of course it's a wrong number; however the fact that Frank carries on this conversation for long minutes without seeming to question it is in a way more poignant than if it actually had been a call from a lamented ghost. Sensing the loneliness that all this implies, the woman, Sarah (Blake), invites Frank to lunch.
Sadly, the film's charm wanes. Long scenes of Sarah and Frank making chitchat sap it of energy. Saville clearly wishes to explore the dynamic between men and their ageing parents, but his ideas seem half-formed, and are inelegantly expressed. Frank, trying to make up for neglecting his relationship with his mother, clashes with Sarah's adult son, who never quite feels like a fully formed character. Later, in a jarring narrative non sequitur, he recruits Sarah to help Phillip mend bridges with his own frail father.
Essential to this sifting of family and belonging as central to the identity of suburban males, is a rumination on houses as homes versus property. Frank takes Sarah to visit her former home, fending off the stoner muso current tenants so that she can revel in nostalgia. As a real estate agent, Frank is repeatedly chastised by a young father who feels increasingly priced out of the market. All this, too, proves to be stultifying rather than illuminating. It's been said before, and more compellingly.
Tim Kroenert is acting editor of Eureka Street.