SURVIVING GEORGIA

Reviewed by GREG KING

Directors: Sandra Sciberras and Kate Whitbread

Stars: Pia Miranda, Holly Valance, Caroline O’Connor, Shane Jacobson, Toby Wallace, Spencer McLaren.

There have been some crowd pleasing and commercially successful local films this year, notably Red Dog, The Eye Of The Storm and The Cup, that have largely disproved the popular notion that we make dour, downbeat and uncomfortably bleak drama that no-one wants to see. So it is disappointing that the latest Australian film to hit cinemas is not that good frankly. Surviving Georgia had all the elements to be another crowd pleasing feel good romcom, but it falls flat. Unfortunately this is a disappointingly bland film that is let down by several continuity goofs, some corny dialogue, unlikely characters, and a woefully underdeveloped script.
Heidi (Pia Miranda) and Rose (former pop star Holly Valance) are sisters that were abandoned by their erratic, self-absorbed and sexually adventurous mother Georgia (Caroline O’Connor) when they were still in their teens. The lives of both sisters have been somewhat messy, lacking direction, which they blame entirely on their absent mother. Rose has had to raise her 12-year-old son Albie (Toby Wallace, from Lucky Country, etc) virtually alone. Heidi is still single and going out with “one emotional cripple after another.”
But then the pair is visited by the family lawyer. He informs them that Georgia has died, and left them a small milk bar in their hometown. The girls are expected to fix the place up, run it for six months and then they can sell it. Reluctantly the two return to the town where they grew up, a place that is filed with often unhappy memories. Heidi quickly warms to the rustic charms of the place, while Rose bitterly resents the time she is forced to stay. And Albie finds it hard to fit into his new school and the slow pace of life. Heidi has to re-evaluate her relationship with the mother she despises before she can move forward with her life, and Rose has to soften her hard exterior.
And there is one further complication, when it seems that dear old mum may not be dead after all!
There are a number of subplots running through the busy screenplay from Sandra Scibberas (the offbeat Caterpillar Wish, etc), which dish up a number of complications and red herrings that add little to the central drama. There are so many incidents here that one could be forgiven for thinking that the film is a faithful adaptation of a novel. The tone is uneven, and there is some clunky direction from Scibberas and co-director Kate Whitbread, an actress making her feature film-directing debut here. They handle the material in a somewhat perfunctory manner, and there is little visual flair here. The film is shot almost like a television movie, and dishes up the sort of material that is par for an episode of Neighbours and its ilk.
The film was shot on location in Warburton, in Victoria’s northeast, but the cinematography from Jon Webb is rather bland and fails to make the most of the picturesque setting.
There are some nice performances though, although one wishes the characters had been better developed and more credible. In arguably her best role since her breakthrough, AFI award winning performance in Looking For Alibrandi, Miranda gives a solid performance. Shane Jacobson brings his usual larrikin humour and genial charm to his role as Johnnie, the local constable, who is attracted to Rose, even though she resists his advances. And young Wallace has a cheeky presence.
Valance, who recently appeared in the awful comedy Big Mamma’s Boy, struggles to give her character much depth, and audiences will not empathise with her. O’Connor chews the scenery with her few scenes.
But ultimately Surviving Georgia is an underwhelming, inoffensive, flawed and messy blend of melodrama and romantic comedy that could have been stronger and more entertaining if the producers had refined the script.

*1/2

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