* * * 1/2
Stephan Elliot’s love letter to his very ‘70s childhood Swinging Safari is constantly frenetic. There is perhaps more pure human energy in every frame than any film I saw in 2017, or in recent memory. Most frames contain at least three people – indeed, often it’s more than six – and they’re almost always all yelling, moving, gesticulating, agitating. In addition, there are design elements, including iconographic ‘70s props, practically filling every available space in the frame not filled by a wildly oscillating human or four. There’s a hell of a lot of stuff, everywhere, all the time, and the sheer energy of it all is undoubtedly contagious, propulsive, and fun.
Likewise, the performances are pitched substantially above the pace, energy and sheer commitment of real life. Those by some of the rather incredible ensemble cast – Guy Pearce, Rhada Mitchell, Julian McMahon – are allowed to spill heavily over into caricature. But the lead performances, by youngster Atticus Robb as Elliot stand-in Jeff Marsh, and Jeremy Sims as his dad Bob, are at least closer to reality, and somewhat touching.
According to Elliot, the film is an extremely autobiographical account of a defining month of his childhood, when he formed a life-long friendship with costume designer Lizzie Gardiner, played here (re-named Molly) by Darcy Wilson. The story is framed with a transposed version of the real-life beached whale incident from Florence, Oregon in 1970. As the beachside town Jeff lives in tries to deal with a huge rotting carcass lying on its greatest asset, Bob and his friends’ parents experiment with sexual ‘liberation’.
The energy, the design, the situation – everything about the film feels comedic, but it’s not actually a laugh-out loud kind of film. There aren’t a lot of ‘jokes’ that land, and the drama, such as it is, is underwhelming. But the sheer colorful brio of the direction, performances and design make for an engaging and relentlessly entertaining ninety-six minutes. If nothing else, it’ll certainly take you back.
You can listen to my interview with writer/director Stephan Elliot here.