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Dancing Aborigines Tap the Blues and Sing With Pride in the Giddy Musical Bran Nue Dae

When an Aboriginal teenager from Western Australia runs away from his strict, Christian boarding school in Perth, nothing else could ensue than a zany, cross-country musical romp, featuring hippies, a wily homeless man, a big-boobed store attendant with a shotgun, a body-painted football team, and a chubby harlot, right? That’s the storyline of the musical comedy Bran Nue Dae, a little road trip movie featuring a motley crew ensemble cast and a conceit structured for laughs and musical numbers, with a little cultural irreverence and Aboriginal pride thrown in for good measure. It’s a silly trifle of a film, but one that never pretends to be anything but a light dish. A handful of its musical numbers combined with a few choice moments of humor make it a quirky, albeit warm diversion.
By Peter Simek |
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When an Aboriginal teenager from Western Australia runs away from his strict, Christian boarding school in Perth, nothing else could ensue than a zany, cross-country musical romp, featuring hippies, a wily homeless man, a big-boobed store attendant with a shotgun, a body-painted football team, and a chubby harlot, right? That’s the storyline of the musical comedy Bran Nue Dae, a little road trip movie featuring a motley crew ensemble cast and a conceit structured for laughs and musical numbers, with a little cultural irreverence and Aboriginal pride thrown in for good measure. It’s a silly trifle of a film, but one that never pretends to be anything but a light dish. A handful of its musical numbers combined with a few choice moments of humor make it a quirky, albeit warm diversion.

Willie (Rocky McKenzie) is the son of a devout (fanatical?) Christian woman who hopes and prays her boy will become up a priest. The only problem is the adolescent is filled with all the usual hormones, producing in him the typical distractions. When he stares at the crucifix during Church services, he can only see his crush — naked, dancing and winking, surrounded by a circle of flames. It’s all very PG and cute, and Willie takes this as a pretty good indication that he is not cut out for the priesthood, a point further driven by the personality of his German school master, the humorless Father Benedictus (Geoffrey Rush). In one of the film’s best moments, Wille admits to stealing Coca-Cola and candy from the school’s refrigerator, and before he is paddled for his indiscretion, Father Benedictus insults Willie’s heritage, prompting the young man to break into song: “Nothing I would rather be / to be an Aborigine.” His classmates follow suit, and after a delightful little tap routine, Willie hits the road.

Along the way he encounters a homeless man who turns out to be Willie’s Uncle Tadpole (Ernie Dingo), a pair of hippies, one of them, ironically, German like the priest, and a buxom woman who tries to seduce Willie and then joins them on the road back to Broome, a quaint, dusty costal town. All Willie wants is to be home, fish, and love his girl Rosie (Jessica Mauboy). The trip, however, churns up all sorts of familial revelations, cultural surprises, and heaps of general wackiness — nothing a little bit of singing and dancing can’t wrap up with a flourish.