ON IN CINEMAS
EIFF 2018: Flammable Children aka Swinging Safari (2018)
N.B. This film is not on wide release in the UK at present. It is showing at the Edinburgh International Film Festival on Wednesday 27th and Friday 29th June 2018.
The 1970s Down Under
This comedy is set in an Australian seaside town called Nobby’s Beach during the 1970s, a decade when sexual liberation and garish fashions ruled the day. It focuses on three families who live next to each other in the one cul-de-sac. Keith Hall (Guy Pearce) is an encyclopedia salesman who lives with his alcoholic wife Kaye (Kylie Minogue). They are saddled with several children. Wealthy Jo and Rick Jones (Radha Mitchell and Julian McMahon), meanwhile, are always the ones to throw outrageous parties for their neighbours. In contrast to themselves, their daughter Melly (Darcey Wilson) is painfully shy and reserved. The third family, the Marshes, consists of sexually-frustrated Gale (Asher Keddie), her sexually-disinterested husband Bob (Jeremy Sims), their sexually-overactive adolescent daughter Bec (Chelsea Glaw) and their not-quite-old-enough-to-have-sex-yet son Jeff (Atticus Robb). Jeff likes making home movies with his friends featuring plenty of death-defying stunts and amateur gore effects (crushed heads are represented by smashing watermelons). He has maintained a close bond with Melly since a very young age because they were injured together when their synthetic fibre clothes caught fire.
The town becomes a focus of the local media when a blue whale gets washed up on the local beach. Its presence inspires the young Melly’s sensitive outlook on life. Jeff, meanwhile, experiences the onset of hormonal feelings and starts to fall for his childhood friend.
Watch a trailer:
Off-colour nostalgic humour
Swinging Safari is one of those unashamed retro nostalgia comedies which captures every detail of the era in a slightly exaggerated manner. The older men all sport handlebar moustaches, whereas younger ones let their hair grow shoulder-length. Sweet shops are stocked to the brim with confectionaries from the era. A series of period pop tunes litter the soundtrack over colourful montages. Children’s bedrooms are covered with posters for films like Jaws, Smokey and the Bandit and suchlike. The whole style is unashamedly self-conscious yet, at the same time, a candy-coated joy to look at and listen to. Writer-director Stephan Elliott was heavily inspired by his own youthful experiences. While there is a misty-eyed affection running throughout, it is clear that there has been a lot of artistic license taken in the portrayal in order to make it more entertaining than realistic.
How much you enjoy the film overall may depend upon your acceptance of casually off-colour humour. Kids and adults alike use the F-word time and time again. Adolescents call each other “poofters” as an insult. There are jokes based on gore, wife-swapping and cruelty to animals (none were actually harmed during production). Jeff’s older daughter is a teenage nymphomaniac who gives blow jobs to all of the guys in her age group. A kid runs around on fire as part of a stunt which Jeff is shooting for one of his films. Someone hands a video of infamous hardcore flick Deep Throat to a young girl, claiming it to be about dentistry. A mother urinates on one of her neighbour’s daughters.
The comedy, however, isn’t so much about laughing at these nasty individual incidents as it is about making fun of an era when political correctness didn’t exist and social regulations set out to protect children were half-baked at the best of times. It sails close to the wind but gets away with it because it pokes fun at the stupidity of the time period. The wit is also delivered in such a rapid-fire manner that it usually hits the funny bone by ensuring that outrage after another catches the viewer off-guard.
There’s some neat against-type casting here. Guy Pearce lets his hair down here as a chilled, anything-goes guy. Pearce’s former Neighbours co-star Kylie Minogue, meanwhile, dumps her usual glamorous image to play his miserable and boozy wife. Radha Mitchell is also memorable as an incredibly forward minx of a housewife.
Swinging Safari isn’t for the easily offended but, then again, it was never meant to be. However, if are fully prepared to take jokes which possess genuine wit while traipsing gleefully into decidedly taboo territory then this will be right up your alley.
Runtime: 97 mins
Dir: Stephan Elliott
Script: Stephan Elliott
Starring: Guy Pearce, Kylie Minogue, Radha Mitchell, Julian McMahon, Asher Keddie, Jeremy Sims, Atticus Robb, Darcey Wilson