If there’s one element you must try to include in a heartfelt comedy-drama which chooses to champion on-screen relationships over narrative, it’s an endearing central character. First-time Australian director Cherie Nowlan would have done well to remember this with ‘Clubland’. Jean Dwight (Brenda Blethyn) is an ageing, cockney comedienne on the Sydney club circuit. When she’s not performing her phallocentric stand-up routine, she likes nothing more than to meddle in the lives of her long-suffering sons. She is perhaps the most overbearing, self-obsessed and irritating matriarchal big screen figure since Norman Bates’ mum in ‘Psycho’.
The part was written specifically for Blethyn, who does her best to depict Jean’s transition from control freakery to compassion, but she can’t seem to avoid falling back into stereotype. Witty performances from Khan Chitterden and Richard Wilson as the two sons – sexually terrified Tim and mentally disabled Mark – provide a few highs, but there’s just no escaping Jean. You end up having to ask yourself, if this woman’s own family can’t stand her, why would anyone pay good money to spend an hour-and-a-half with her in the cinema? Rebecca Davies