Missy Higgins, Rocky McKenzie, Ernie Dingo, Geoffrey Rush, Jessica Mauboy, Ernie Dingo
Jimmy Chi, Reg Cribb, Rachel Perkins
Bran Nue Dae is the best Aboriginal musical ever released in the United States.
Okay, so that's not exactly saying much. I sure can't think of another one myself, but it is saying a lot because Bran Nue Dae is a cheery, infectious, vibrantly colored and impossibly joyful musical that will likely have you humming along, beboppin' in your seat and feeling mighty fine as the closing credits roll even if you are likely to forget the entire thing before day's end.
Based upon a stage musical from 1990, Bran Nue Dae is either an unrestrained High School Musical or an incredibly restrained Hair with its rainbow-colored glasses, celebration of cultural diversity and a view inside the world of the indigenous Australian peoples unlike you've likely ever seen.
Willie (newcomer Rocky McKenzie) is a mama's boy madly in love with the beautiful Rosie ("Australian Idol" runner-up Jessica Mauboy), but he's headed off for training in the priesthood while she's headed off to find success in the world of music largely under the guidance of the incredibly unique Uncle Tadpole (Ernie Dingo). The film that unfolds is essentially a road movie as Willie realizes he's got to get Rosie back before she falls for a slickster (Dan Sultan), despite the over-the-top pleadings of the seminary's cartoonishly racist head master (Geoffrey Rush, the film's only name known to American audiences).
American audiences aren't likely to consider this indie musical a great one, at least not in the same arena as a Hair or even the recent similarly toned Hairspray, but perhaps more in line with the recent Broadway musical inspired Mamma Mia!, a film that had its own ridiculously uneven qualities and fits of rather awkward vocal stylings. To its credit, the film is nowhere near the debacle of another Idol themed musical, the bloody awful From Justin to Kelly.
While the singing at times leaves something to be desired, with the exception of the buoyant and magnetic Mauboy, tis' the tunes and the infectious spirit that are the point in Bran Nue Dae and they are present in abundance. So sweet that it would likely give Willy Wonka an orgasm, Bran Nue Dae will beat you into submission with its happy stick long before the closing credits start rolling.
Lensed by Lord of the Rings D.P. Andrew Lesnie, Bran Nue Dae is perfectly framed with an experience that often feels like you've stuck your face up to a kaleidoscope that keeps going round and round and round like the 1960's set film that it is.
The vast majority of the time that the word Aborigine enters a film's description, it's known that we're 'bout to be in for a history lesson or a condemnation of the wider Australian society. As directed by Rachel Perkins, Bran Nue Dae isn't so much interested in condemnation as it is in proposing a rather simplistic yet refreshing solution emphasizing a 1960's style free love, multicultural nookie and being happy, happy, happy. As Willie races back to his beloved Rosie, he counters (of course!) a wide array of Aussie subcultures including hippies, dancing footballers, aging shopkeepers and so on and so forth.
Most likely to be embraced by those capable of surrendering wholly to the cinematic experience without a thought given to rhyme nor reason, Bran Nue Dae may not leave a lasting thought in your head but it sure will leave a smile on your face.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic