Any Questions for Ben? (Josh Lawson, Rachael Taylor) : Movie Review
While Rob Sitch, Santo Cilauro and Tom Gleisner have given us “Champagne comedy” in the past like The Late Show, Frontline and The Castle — and to a lesser extent, Thank God You’re Here, their latest “comedy” is lighter on the laughs than many will be expecting.
Still, the real issue facing this film is not the lack of “Tell him he’s dreaming” one-liners, but a fairly weak screenplay that revolves around a highly unlikeable lead character.
Written by Sitch, Cilauro and Gleisner, with Sitch in the director’s chair, AQFB follows 27-year-old Ben’s (Josh Lawson) quarter-life crisis. Consumed with high-paying jobs and living the authentic bachelor’s life — multiple women and zero responsibility, all it takes for him to realise he doesn’t “have it all” is speaking at a careers night at his old high school.
Enter love interest Alex (Rachel Taylor), who is the antithesis of Ben — she has a well respected job with the UN, has personal meetings with the Prime Minister, and has a room full of high school students chomping at the bit to ask her questions, she’s made it.
Ben’s pursuit of Alex offers him an opportunity to grow up but his journey isn’t smooth and we’re left to wonder whether he can change enough to win the girl in the end.
Working Dog has ventured into unknown territory with AQFB, not only in centring their story on a twenty-something lead, but in predominantly focusing on the romantic storyline.
There are laughs to be had with the film, mostly courtesy of a host of supporting cast or cameos — Rob Sitch as the high school principal, The Shambles‘ Sean Lynch and John Howard in a walk-on roles shine — but the jokes delivered by the leads often fall flat, and the character of Ben is so self-involved that his dialogue is delivered deflated, void of any zing it may have had.
What this film wants to present is a reflection of contemporary Melbourne life, and just in case you forgot where the film is set, the unending establishment shots of Melbourne from every angle and at every time of day should help you.
Instead of delivering a truly Australian perspective, as they have in previous films, AQFB plays like an American rom-com where the characters defy realism in lieu of a good story. Unfortunately for AQFB it doesn’t even nail the good story element.
It’s not all bad news however; Rachael Taylor is in fine form here and works her material well. Her character’s motivations are questionable and she does act solely as a means for Ben to mature, but she’s easy to watch on screen and gives Lawson something to work with.
Lachy Hulme as Ben’s older friend and mentor Sam acts as the typical sidekick who goads his friend into embracing his bachelorhood, but does so in an entertaining way. Felicity Ward and Daniel Henshall as Emily and Nick are also refreshing, and offer some relief as Ben and Alex’s married friends.
What’s most disappointing about AQFB is not that it’s light on laughs but that it presumes its audience cares about such an unlikeable character that barely redeems himself by the end of the film. With previous WD characters we’ve seen honest depictions of Australian personalities and culture, with Ben we’re left wondering, is this what we’ve become?
ANY QUESTIONS FOR BEN – IN CINEMAS FROM FEBRUARY 9, 2012