Aboriginal Musical, Unoriginal Music: Australia’s Hit Bran Nue Dae


Dorky and earnest, aboriginal teen Willie (Rocky McKenzie) proves deep down a dissident when he escapes Catholic boarding school in 1969 Perth, extinguishing the fire and brimstone of Father Benedictus (a hammy, German-inflected Geoffrey Rush) through cheeky song: “There’s nothing I would rather be/Than to be an aborigine/And watch you take my precious land away.” Hooking up with a rascally drunken hobo and a hippie couple in a VW bus, Willie showtunes his way home to Broome on a madcap, sunny-day road trip, eventually reconnecting with his evangelical mama and the girl who snubbed him (Australian Idol runner-up Jessica Mauboy). It’s easy to understand why indigenous filmmaker Rachel Perkins’s energetic adaptation of a two-decade-old stage musical has become a homegrown hit in Oz, as it nakedly attempts to be a timeless coming-of-ager about cultural identity with humor and music used to diffuse social injustices. However, the choreography is sloppy and lifeless; the outmoded blend of vintage rock, country, and Broadway styles doesn’t click; and the characters are such caricatures that it’s no wonder the entire cast is overacting. Oh, but to Lord of the Rings cinematographer Andrew Lesnie: Well done, mate.