Soft Fruit

Reviewed By Chris Parry
Posted 10/29/99 04:12:41

"The finest Australian film of the last five years."
5 stars (Awesome)

Is there anything funnier than death and family? And is there anything more tragic? That's the conundrum in Christina Andreef's debut feature, and it's a conundrum that she and her fabulous cast explore like few in the recent history of Australian film have attempted. With a considered, hilarious and ultimately close-to-home script and the sort of performances that could only come from a close-knit mix of veterans and talented newcomers, Soft Fruit is a film that defies simple description. It's one of those rare experiences where you're almost better off knowing nothing about it when you buy your ticket, so that you can take pleasure in every nuance, every line, every resurfaced memory and, ultimately, every happy tear.

Veteran queen of Australian acting, Drynan (Muriel's Wedding) is Patsy, a Port Kembla mother whose four children have drifted away and whose crusty Eastern European husband (Haft) spends his day shooting magpies out of the backyard. But when ill health seems to be bringing her life to a close, her kids return from their various messy lives in order to nurse her through the remaining weeks. While the kids - outspoken divorcee Nadia (Horler), bumbling mummy's girl Vera (Talbot), fresh out of prison Bo (Dykstra) and wanna-be American house-frau Josie (Lemon) - all have the best of intentions in smothering mum with attention over her last days, Patsy's not about to fill the role of dying martyr. She wants to experience everything she missed out on in life, dammit, and neither impending death nor fawning family is about to stop her.

Jeanie Drynan's performance as Patsy has the kind of affection and quality that will have people referring to her character by first name for years to come. It's the kind of role in increasingly short supply in film - the middle aged female lead - and if Drynan was any more perfect it would be scary.

Many recent Australian releases have suffered "quirk-overload", and Soft Fruit could easily have strayed onto this low-rent territory and still have been seen as credible. That it avoids quirk and one-note characters is a credit to everyone involved. In fact, Soft Fruit bathes itself in reality to a point where you find yourself readily associating the characters with people you grew up with.

This isn't the Brady Bunch, but it's not The Castle either. It's the people next door. It's down home. And it's perhaps the finest Australian film of the last five years. Do not miss it.

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