The movie musical is a tough item to pull off these days. Gone is that Golden Era of Hollywood wherein studios delighted audiences with copious amounts of singing and dancing en masse; a once-glorious trend now supplanted by lackluster blockbusters filled with fiery freeway explosions and Nicolas Cage’s ever-expanding forehead. Worse still is the now-prevalent belief by many that musicals are, as a majority of the kids contemptuously call it: “gay.”
And so, one has to speculate: “What does it take to make a musical nowadays?” Well, as the makers of the truly-abominable movie The Apple proved way back in 1980, you can’t just steep your project in bright, effervescent colors alone: you need to have some halfway decent tunes in your roster and — at the very least — something resembling a plot.
It also helps tremendously if you’re adapting a previously successful stage play for the Silver Screen — like they did in the case of Bran Nue Dae. Taking Jimmy Chi’s hit from Australia (where it was billed as “the world’s first Aboriginal musical”), director Rachel Perkins has somehow managed to make a fun, energetic flick without losing its audience in the process — which is never easy when you’re dealing with a twenty-year-old stage musical (see: Joel Schumacher’s Phantom of the Opera).
The story here has a young Aborigine lad Willie (Rocky McKenzie) who dreams of a life of love with the girl of his dreams, saucy Rosie (Jessica Mauboy) during the summer of ‘69 (no, Bryan Adams is not on the soundtrack). Unfortunately, Willie has already promised his mum that he would become a priest — to wit he leaves temptation behind and sets off for seminary school with the very strict Father Benedictus (Geoffrey Rush).
Soon, Willie realizes that he’s not quite priest material; escaping school to return to his sleepy-headed home of Broome with a fun-loving (but heavy drinking) hobo (Ernie Dingo, reprising his role fro the original stage production) and a pair of would-be hippies (Tom Budge and Aussie pop star Missy Higgins). Their caravan of camaraderie begins a new cycle in everyone’s life; wherein the quartet begin to find their inner selves. Meanwhile, Father Benedictus is hot on Willie’s trail — determined to bring his star pupil back.