Venue: Carriageworks (Eveleigh NSW), Oct 1 – 4, 2014
Screenplay: S. Shakthidharan, G. Gonzalez
Director: S. Shakthidharan
Cast: Varun Fernando, Firdaws Adelpour, Henry Vo, Jamie Meyer-Williams, Patrick Uly, Sophie Hawkshaw, Anandavalli
The film is projected with incidental music performed live by two-person band Kurinji whose vocalist Aimée Falzon recalls the singing of Sarah McLachlan and Róisín Murphy. The band provides an ethereal start to the night, but the film is more earthy in tone. Set in the recent past, just before 9-11 had changed the world, it features a cast of multiracial characters, which stands distinct because it is a rare representation of our daily Australian realities. It is not a vision we often see on screens, but the diversity looks entirely natural, making a strong political case against the persistent ethnocentrism of Caucasian faces in our media landscape.
The story is a curious one about the anxiety that young people of Western Sydney experience. It showcases rarely articulated societal concerns through Rizzy, who pretends to be a resident of the affluent suburb of Crows Nest, where he is in fact, a member of the working classes in the stigmatised Fairfield region. He is aspirational but perhaps for the wrong reasons. The film makes an effort to contradict Rizzy’s belief that his background is inferior by depicting great friendships and colourful environs, but it results in a very alienating protagonist. We never reach any meaningful understanding of his feelings, so the film remains distant. Its insistence on focusing only on young men, and having women characters exist at its periphery, further restricts its ability to find relevancy with wider audiences.
It is a strong cast, carefully directed by S. Shakthidharan who retains the rawness of the young actors, while drawing good commitment in their performances. Anandavalli plays Rizzy’s mother Helen, with a beautiful sensitivity that moves us with her minimal but authentic approach. It is unfortunate that her role is a deeply subservient one, but the actor’s work is the film’s standout element. Leading man Varun Fernando is less accomplished, but his comic abilities provide some entertainment value in lighter sections. The young men are a group with excellent chemistry that gives energy to many of the earlier scenes, and the film suffers as attention is shifted away from them as the plot progresses.
The work has issues with pace and structure that prevents tension from building satisfactorily. Also, the stakes in the narrative are never high, so we do not respond with much excitement. Rizzy’s 18th Birthday Party is a quiet and earnest movie that attempts to provide a voice to a segment in our community that is not often heard, but it needs to amplify its assertions in volume and in poignancy if it wishes to leave a greater impression.