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Free Willie
False at every turn, an Australian stage musical comes to half-life on the screen

Bran Nue Dae

Rated:Not Rated
Studio:Freestyle Releasing, LLC
Director:Rachel Perkins
Cast:Geoffrey Rush, Rocky McKenzie, Ernie Dingo, Missy Higgins, Jessica Mauboy
Our Rating:

Reportedly a popular musical in Australia, though it’s difficult to imagine why, Bran Nue Dae is a film adaptation that barely qualifies as either a film or a musical. 

Written for the screen and directed by indigenous Aussie Rachel Perkins, the film concerns Willie (Rocky McKenzie), a young aborigine plagued with intense Christian guilt, who runs away from home for no apparent reason. In no time at all – almost everything happens in super-speed during this 88-minute sketch – Willie lands in the condemning arms of a priest (a hammy Geoffrey Rush), saddles up to a friendly, if conniving, hobo and hitches a ride with a couple of German hippies. Along the way, he participates in utterly insipid songs with upbeat Christian messages (“All the Way Jesus,” “Child of Glory”) and halfhearted choreography in numbers put together with the visual flair of a beige couch. 

There are generational secrets unveiled, lessons learned and love unearned. Willie’s supposedly in love with a cute aborigine girl from his village, Rosie, whom he runs from as fast as he can – literally – every time he sees her (probably because whenever he thinks about her, he envisions her as a flame-engulfed devil, which is just so romantic). She’s fallen into the attentive, somewhat cocky arms of Lester, a local musician who gives Rosie a chance to sing and displays actual sexual interest in her, and therefore must be ruined completely. 

It’s tough to root for a main character who’s so brainwashed and mentally weak that he looks down upon his great love just for being cute, and although he “stands up” to Lester eventually (to the delight of the entire village), his redemption is wholly false, as is the entire spirit of this cheap, clumsy musical.
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