I’ll have more thoughts from my week at this year’s third annual Aruba International Film Festival in the coming days, including interviews and reviews.
A FEW BEST MEN is generally described as “an Australian HANGOVER”, which is also how I’m sure it was pitched to financiers. There’s an excess of drinking during the stag night, but the insanity spills through not just the next morning, but the ceremony itself and the aftermath.
It stars THE LOVED ONES’ Xavier Samuel as an English guy who has fallen in love with an Australian daughter of privilege while they were on a remote Pacific atoll. He abruptly asks her to marry him, and suddenly he’s back in England breaking the news to his ne’er do well mates (Tim Draxl, Kevin Bishop, and LOVE ACTUALLY’s Kris Marshall), readying them to hop on a plane to Australia. His bride to be’s dad is a conservative Senator, her mom is a bored housewife (played by Olivia Newton-John), and her sister (BRIDESMAIDS’ Rebel Wilson) pretends to be a lesbian just to piss off her dad.
There’s loads of drug humor, gross-out animal gags, and various other bits and threads that rarely let up once the movie gets past the initial setup. I wanted HANGOVER PART 2 to be fun and crazy even though I knew it had to retread a lot of the same ground, and it mostly bored me. A FEW BEST MEN retreads a lot of that ground and manages to be genuinely fun, fresh, and diverting. Granted, AFBM has the advantage of not being a sequel in an established series, but it’s still the same setup and framework, just with radically better execution.
The story that plays out never goes beyond the template of “rough around the edges meets the upper class” with raunchy “oh no they didn’t” hilarity ensuing. The reason the movie works is that it neither leans on that setup as a crutch nor pretends to be more than that. It would be silly not to assume that the reason this movie makes such great use of the acting talents on display is the steady hand of director Stephan Elliott, who directed the classic PRISCILLA, QUEEN OF THE DESERT and the more recent re-remake of Nöel Coward’s EASY VIRTUE, which deserved far more attention than it received here in the US.
Elliott allowed talented improvisers like Marshall, Bishop, and Wilson to do what they do so well, giving them the free rein that they needed without letting them go too far afield. He tempers the zaniness with a grounded, realistic leading lady in the character of Mia (played by Laura Brent). Unlike so many contemporary comedies, she’s a three-dimensional person with realistic feelings and motivations, not just an archetype confined to the trappings of “the pretty girl the guy marries”.
The two guys with the meatiest supporting parts are Marshall and Bishop, playing “the troublemaker” and “the oblivious one”. Marshall is best-known to US audiences from LOVE ACTUALLY (where he played the Brit ready to get it on with American girls), and the brilliant Bishop is probably known better in the States for his turn as Jim Hawkins in MUPPET TREASURE ISLAND than the loads of excellent sketch comedy he’s done in the years since on British TV. The third best pal, played by Draxl, spends most of the movie as a sad sack lump. If there’s a sequel (which I hope there is), it’d be great to give him more to do.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that Olivia Newton-John is a big standout here too, playing the wife of a politician teetering on the edge and ready to go nuts. You could characterize what she gets to do as Sandy Gone Wild, and you can tell that she relishes the chance to let loose.
All around, it says something that the local Aruban audience I watched this with was rolling with laughter throughout, and resisted their usual urge to talk and text through the movies at the festival. If a movie is funny and engaging enough, it can tame the most unruly, misbehavior-prone audience.
That this movie doesn’t have so much as a US home video or VOD distributor is a real shame. There is a market for R-rated comedy, especially when the US audience recognizes faces like Kris Marshall and Rebel Wilson as funny people they’ve seen in things, and Samuel’s appearance in ECLIPSE is more than enough of a tie to the TWILIGHT world. It seems like lunacy to me that someone doesn’t snap this up for home video, slap a sticker that says “an Australian HANGOVER” on the cover, and sell it for ten bucks a pop at major retailers. It would fly off the shelves. Promote it on iTunes for a $3-5 rental, and rack up the cash. There’s money on the table just asking to be picked up.
I’ve got an interview with Xavier Samuel that I’m transcribing and posting sometime this week, wherein we discuss movies like this one that have no US distributor, our mutual love of THE THREE AMIGOS, and various and sundry other things. Watch for more Aruba IFF coverage throught the week.