Excellent for Australia not bad for everywhere else. The ‘Working Dog’ team have branched out with a slick sophisticated film that sells a very different side of Australia than ‘The Castle’ and thank god. ‘Any Questions for Ben’ is a film about a man who has everything, a great job, a great apartment, great friends but he is never satisfied. The film begins a with a quote from Ernest Hemingway “Never Mistake Motion For Action”. Ben played by Josh Lawson is constantly moving, a new job every 6 months, a new apartment every year, a new girl, a new holiday, despite having everything he is never satisfied and is always looking for the next adventure. Until one day he goes back to his old private school and speaks to the kids about his life. There he meets an old friend from high school and college Alex, beautiful, smart and meaningful Alex played by Rachael Taylor. Alex works for the United Nations in Yemen, Ben is in strategic re-branding of products. When Alex gives her speech to the students everyone has a question. But when Ben gives his, no one does. Suddenly Ben is struck, what if his entire life has been a waste, he’s not doing anything important or meaningful, not like Alex. And Ben’s journey begins.
The problem is that character of Ben is rather under drawn. He is looking for something to make his life meaningful but given that the movie gives him two hours to find it, it all comes out rather shallow. He gets the girl and commits but given that he was worried about a lot of other elements in his life he doesn’t really come to any grand realisations about himself or about his career which he seems largely unsatisfied with but continues with until in the end of the film. The writing of the film feels as if the writer was like Ben and felt unsatisfied, recounted the journey of trying to find meaning but never really figured out what he was missing so by extension neither does Ben. There is too much talking in this film, Ben goes about telling people how he feels and asking for advice and no one seems to understand, but how many times can you see a character describe how they feel before you begin to wonder if the director and writer were being a bit lazy and should understand the concept of show and not tell.
This film could be American in the way it looks and particularly the way it is cut the montage being a particularly prevalent feature. I don’t mind that all, as I believe Australian films refusing to adopt American conventions has been holding us back for years. The only problem is that these techniques backed up by the shallow script tend to make you feel as if film is like it’s message always moving but with no action. This may be what was intended but with a rather shallow ending to boot it just feels like you are seeing a lot of pretty stuff that didn’t mean much.
The film was funded partly by City of Melbourne and boy did they get their money’s worth, every important event on the Melbourne calendar was covered from the Australian Open to the Melbourne Cup, even Captain Cook’s Cottage got a look in. I rather like this element of the film especially as I was living in Sydney at the time and it made me feel very nostalgic. However it may have been a bit of over kill and more time could have been spent on the substance of the story. The audience needed a quiet break from the constant movement which they never got. A moment to reflect on the action and see the truth of Ben. This was decidedly missing.
All and all this film was very enjoyable and I found all the characters very likeable and understandable, my favorite being the character of Emily played by Felicity Ward who cuts through the crap and sees Ben for what he really is, the man that can never follow through.
‘Any Questions For Ben’ is a new kind of Australian movie, that shows a sophisticated Australia with characters that make money, wears designer clothes, eat at great restaurants and live in the city. More than anything this film’s great achievement is showing an Australia apart from Wolf Creek, Red Dog and The Dish. It shows an Australia that I know and I live in and for that I am grateful. So for any of you that thought you couldn’t make an Australian film because you have no passion for Kangaroos this is the film that breaks the mold and so can yours.