Robyn Butler’s screenplay for Now Add Honey is breezy and buoyant , managing to stay light ’n easy even as it deals with some pretty serious themes: really bad adultery, parental neglect, drug addiction, the over-sexualisation of young performers, and, most passionately and effectively, the ageing of the female body. The fact that all this is crammed into a high-concept comedy with a deceptively simple mis – “Normal life implodes for a suburban family when their pop-star cousin comes to stay” – is very much to Butler’s credit.
Butler plays Caroline, who has to shelter her sixteen year-old international sensation niece Honey (Lucy Fry) when her sister and Honey’s mother Beth (Portia de Rossi) is arrested for drug importation at Melbourne Airport. They’re in from LA, where Honey has developed into a vacuous idiot; now Caroline’s nice normal family has to deal with Honey’s absurdity, while Honey has to deal with their banality.
At least, that’s the set-up. But where the script really shines is in all that messy stuff I mentioned earlier. Butler is unashamed and unafraid to use her very wrinkles to get a lot off her chest (which she is also extremely happy to disparage to make her point); as she takes pot-shots at the entertainment industry, she is very clear to point out that not only the audience but young entertainers themselves – even when being manipulated by their parents, agents, photographers, labels and the like – must also take accountability on the issue of sexual exploitation. She kicks goals on the other issues too, all the while keeping her comic balls in the air – something a lot of light comedies simply do not achieve, allowing themselves to be swallowed by sentimentality or self-importance.
Fry is excellent as Honey, pushing her character’s ludicrousness to the edge without ever taking it over into cringe-worthy parody. She’s accountable for at least half the film’s laughs (and that’s a conservative estimate). Lucy Durack is great as Katie, Caroline and Beth’s sister, although she looks more like one of their daughters. Philippa Coulthard makes a strong impression as Caroline’s sensible daughter Clare (and will get you humming a particular Cure song way after you’ve left the theatre). The only one who seems (very) uncomfortable in her role is de Rossi, although, to be fair, her character is cordoned off from the rest for the cast for most of the movie, which may account for her tonally mismatched performance. While the others are playing high comedy, she’s playing to the back row.
Wayne Hope’s direction is deceptively matter-of-fact; what he does – and doesn’t call attention to – is honour the script. The jokes are well-timed, the dramatic bits are never allowed to tilt the film’s delicate balance, and the pacing is sharp. The only huge blunders are the score, which is generic and annoying, and a seriously misjudged romantic subplot involving a superstar chef (Robbie Magasiva). Everything else on on-note.