Trixie is eager to please, but even mildly amusing routines are relentlessly run into the ground. The bribery-blackmail-murder mystery comes unraveled long before Rudolph can knit a narrative skein. The movie is as overlong and undermotivated as it is absentmindedly incoherent. At one point, Trixie advises someone to "fish or get off the pot." Perhaps the filmmaker should take her advice.
A far superior character-driven romance, the Australian film Praise chronicles the love affair between a pair of dissolute slackers living day-to-day in a state of dazed, drug-enhanced marginality.
Written and directed by Alan Rudolph
A Sony Pictures Classics release
Directed by John Curran
Written by Andrew McGahan, from his novel
A Strand release
June 30 through July 13
Gordon (Australian rock star Peter Fenton), an unemployed convenience-store clerk, is a good-looking paradigm of passivity who chain-smokes to treat his asthma. His erstwhile coworker Cynthia (Sacha Horler) is a loud-mouthed potato-sack of need with a case of eczema so severe that, when it's inflamed, her skin bleeds to the touch. He's diffident and a bit repressed, she's furiously forward and sexually voracious. Initiating the relationship, Cynthia moves into Gordon's room in a too-tidy flophouse, where they play Scrabble and (mainly) make love. Gordon is so laid-back that heroin improves his sexual performance.
Praisewhich Andrew McGahan (the dean of Australian "grunge literature") adapted from his prizewinning novelhas no narrative beyond the trajectory of their relationship. First-time, American-born director John Curran presents his suffering principals with good humor and heartfelt tenderness, framing Cynthia and Gordon's self-consciously dysfunctional codependence in somewhat antiseptic squalor. (The movie's commercial lighting is more suggestive of romantic comedy than a kitchen-sink melodrama.) The acting, however, is refreshingly bold. The lovers' Jack Sprat coupling, which usually features avid Cynthia riding Gordon roughshod, is as wryly explicit as their general disaffection with life's other aspects.
Memorably embodied by Fenton and (especially) Horler, Gordon and Cynthia go deeper into their respective pathologiesthe movie only improves as their affair founders on the reef of unintended pregnancy (and genital warts). Praise flirts with cute irreverence and the overwrought, overbright look of certain Australian comedies released here by Miramax. Still, neither as uplifting nor as downbeat as it might have been, the movie projects a confessional frankness about human relationships that has the messy feel of truth.
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