Shrieking like a banshee has unfortunately become Brenda Blethyn’s stock in trade ever since her remarkable breakout performance in Mike Leigh’s Secrets & Lies over 10 years ago. And now those who love to watch her boozily wobble in and out of rooms have ample opportunity to do so in this shrill, TV-lite Aussie picture (called Clubland in previous showings—a better-matched title) that plays like a cinematic version of unstable menopause. Blethyn stars as Jean Dwight, a pink-collar worker who doubles as the world’s least funny comic who unbelievably gets work, raising two sons on her own. One is the shy and hunky Tim (Khan Chittenden), and the other is Mark (Richard Wilson), mentally handicapped and unable to look after himself, though that of course doesn’t mean he can’t supply a sage word or two when the hackneyed screenplay calls for it. Jean is thrown in a tizzy when Tim begins to date a gorgeous (and incredibly patient) blonde (Emma Booth), and finds herself consumed by loneliness, not to mention the sauce, which gives Ms. Blethyn a romper room with which to have large-scale tantrums.
As opposed to most of the bland cast, Blethyn does squeak out a sharp delivery or two, but the character, like many of the others represented, is so irrationally conceived, it’s awfully hard to muster sympathy when the film is so baiting in its need for it. The events play like a soap opera that has no idea it is one, as there will be a perfectly serviceable two-person scene that jarringly ends up with someone screaming or crying, and for no apparent reason other than to drum up dramatics. Yet even this is preferable to the movie’s often tasteless asides (like an ice-skating outing with the retarded sibling scored to Patsy Cline’s “I Fall To Pieces”). The movie is clearly aiming for that wacky Aussie, breakneck emotionalism, but by the time we get to the inexplicable group hugs and a wedding chorus of “Nutbush City Limits,” you’ll want to set your own limits for how much of this twaddle you can stomach anymore.