When things aren’t going right, or events are beyond your comprehension, who hasn’t thought of just taking off and leaving it all behind? Especially when your relationship is less a lifelong partnership than a complication of obligations, mortgages and split incomes.Danny Deckchair is a starting over fantasy about an easygoing brickie (Rhys Ifans from Notting Hill) who ties oversized helium balloons to his outdoor chair and launches into the sky. Panicked air traffic controllers are forced to re-route aircraft out of his path, until Danny and his chair are blown north of Sydney by a storm. He’s brought to earth by a stray firework from the Macadamia Festival in the Northern Rivers town of Clarence.
Writer-director Jeff Balsmeyer has devised a great visual hook for a romantic comedy. For the film is not just about Danny’s oddball adventures, but his effect on two very different women. Trudy (Justine Clarke) is the over-ambitious real estate agent he literally leaves behind. She sees Danny as “one of the little people” and cancels their camping holiday to Port Douglas so she can stay at work and woo a client, a conspicuously wealthy and attractive TV sports anchor (Rhys Muldoon). Glenda (Miranda Otto) owns the backyard that Danny’s chair dumps him in. She is Clarence’s only parking cop, an uptight young women who’s given up on love, and on whom Danny has a predictably liberating effect.
There’s nothing startling about the plot of Danny Deckchair, once you get past the inventive premise. But what matters most in this genre is the chemistry of the leads. It certainly helps that Ifans and Otto have worked together before (in the Charlie Kaufman-scripted Human Nature). Both are such experienced actors at this sort of thing that they lend the film an air of assurance, and there’s no awkwardness when they’re together. Ifans, despite not being blessed with traditional leading man looks, is surprisingly appealing as the hapless Danny. And, having last seen her as a warrior maiden in The Lord of the Rings, it’s easy to forget how funny Miranda Otto can be.
Balsmeyer, making his first feature, assuredly juggles a large cast of characters. Of the secondary leads, Justine Clarke’s manic energy and comic verve make her a perfect foil for the laidback, slightly loopy Danny, but Muldoon is too bland to be much of a serious romantic rival. Picturesque Bellingen doubles for the fictional town of Clarence. Cinematographer Martin McGrath refreshingly opts for a more realistic lighting scheme than the usual golden glow of romantic comedies.Danny’s lack of selfish ambition and apparent willingness to drift where life takes him proves inspiring to people in Sydney and Clarence alike. And it may just leave you feeling a little lighter as you exit the cinema than when you came in.