Australian cinema loves crafting feel-good camp and then exporting its pop-fueled catnip to American art houses (see The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert; Cosi; Muriel’s Wedding—hell, see the ’90s in general). So it was inevitable that Rachel Perkins’s boisterous, buoyant adaptation of Jimmy Chi’s aboriginal musical washed up on these shores, especially given our current obsession with show-tuned entertainment. The story of a young man (McKenzie) in love with a chanteuese (Mauboy) and on the lam from a Teutonic priest (Rush, in Black Forest ham mode) isn’t “bran nue.” But the movie combination of urban-theater melodramatics, underdog pride—one song claims “There’s nothing that I’d rather be?/?Than to be an ab-or-ig-ine!”—and jazz-hands-ber-alles stylings feels totally in tune with the zeitgeist. If Tyler Perry and the kids from Glee remade The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith, this is exactly what it’d look like.
The cast gives the razzle-dazzle numbers their all, though exuberance gets you only so far when walking a slippery tightrope between debunking some stereotypes (all natives are mystical) and perpetrating others (sex-starved big mamas, ghostly tribal elders). Or when an all’s-well-that-ends-well climax devolves into a family-tree-apalooza, turning an already fantastical fable of identity politics and undernourished romance into a ridiculous shambles. The movie will make you tap your toes; don’t expect much for your head or your heartstrings.—David Fear
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