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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 14%
Average: 14%
Pretty Bad: 4%
Total Crap: 8%

1 review, 44 user ratings

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Honourable Wally Norman, The
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by Stephen Groenewegen

3 stars

It’s the start of a Federal election campaign in Givens Head, a small country municipality. But the town is the focus of intense political scrutiny, not for its rude punning title, but because it’s the “barometer of Australia”. The party that manages to win the seat of Givens Head has never failed to ultimately win office in the nation’s capital.

The sitting member for the conservative Total Country Party is F. Ken Oats (say it aloud), comedian Shaun Micallef turning on the smarm in a sly and winning performance. The emphasis, by the way, in “Country” is on the first syllable. Hoping for a comeback, after being forced from office years ago by the “Land Gate” (geddit?) scandal, is Willy Norman of the Australian People’s Party or APP. Not, of course, to be confused with the ALP – Australian Labor Party.

The political skulduggery and campaigning has little impact on the life of local meatworker Wally Norman, recently made redundant, until fate intervenes in the form of a clerical error. The APP misspells Willy’s name on the nomination form and the hapless Wally is approached to stand for a seat in Federal Parliament.

At the opening of the 50th Sydney Film Festival, co-writer and associate producer of The Honourable Wally Norman, Rick Kalowski, accurately summed up the film as a “little Aussie battler comedy”. There’s a smattering of political satire, a serve of warm-hearted you-beaut Aussie populism and rather a lot of smutty, groan inducing puns. A road sign announces “Now leaving Givens Head – thanks for coming” and Kalowski and co-writer Andrew Jones even squeeze in a Where’s Wally? joke.

The presence of Kevin Harrington as Wally brings to mind The Dish, in which he also played a down-to-earth little Aussie country bloke. He’s suitably bewildered by the big city world of politics, and genuine while giving his off-the-cuff, heartfelt speech about the real problems facing his local community.

But it’s some of the supporting players that give the film its spark. Melissa Madden Gray is frequently hilarious in her tiny part as political reporter Rebecca Jane Thompson. It’s nice to see Alan Cassell in a decent role as the scheming Willy, whose desperation to get back into office is as sad as it is funny. I wanted more of Micallef and his bizarre and biting television campaign advertisements (alas, there’s only one, and it comes near the end). And it’s always a pleasure to see Paul Kelman on screen; he’s one of Australia’s many underrated film actors and he lends credible support as Wally’s best mate from the abattoir.

Director Ted Emery has been making Australian comedy for years, mostly on television (this is only his second film, after 1999’s The Craic). The comedy in Wally Norman is sharp, and there’s nearly always some colourful business occurring in the background to keep you distracted. But after a big success directing last year’s brilliant TV satire Kath and Kim, it’s a shame The Honourable Wally Norman is mostly lacking in interesting female roles. The romantic subplot, between Wally’s daughter and his campaign advisor, is particularly feeble and again recalls the drippier moments of The Dish.

Essentially a celebration of the Frank Capra little guy, The Honourable Wally Norman firmly posits Wally as its hero. There are no surprises in the film’s trajectory – Wally becomes seduced by the big city politicians, no longer a “man of the people” until his family bring him back to earth. Once he stops trying to be someone he’s not, and tells it simply how he sees it, his popularity and respect is restored (there’s a similar theme in the Australian romantic comedy Danny Deckchair, releasing locally in July).

Although Wally and the townsfolk mistrust politics and politicians, the films seems to be suggesting this is because Ken Oats and Willy Norman are dishonest schemers and men that are not to be trusted. Wally’s a good bloke, able to take on the system and not be changed by it. This is underlined by playing Jimmy Barnes’ “Working Class Man” anthem over the closing credits. Everyone can rest assured that Wally will represent his mates back home with decency and fairness.

Call me cynical, but this is all corny bunkum. Parliament is full of middle-aged white Aussie blokes from the bush who consider themselves fair dinkum. Political corruption arguably derives more from the competitive and ruthless workings of the political party system than a few rotten apples. At fault are the insidious old boys’ networks, and all the relentless backslapping and you-rub-my-back-I’ll-rub-yours deals and favours.

A couple of weeks of campaigning under Willy’s tutelage and Wally’s already moulded into a soft-willed political dummy – imagine what he’d be like after three years living in Canberra, working in Parliament House, voting in caucus, and initiated into the workings of Australian political power by dozens of other professional, middle aged white male politicians. Why wouldn’t he turn into one of them? That’s why the film wants us to see Ken and Willy as aberrations in a system that’s otherwise presumed to be sound.

We get a glimpse of what Wally has become in the coda, which is supposed to send us out with a self-satisfied glow, but merely confirms that Wally the Politician has firmly embraced the principles of nepotism and deceiving the electorate. Not only that, but as a great Aussie bloke returning to his family and mates in the bush, we’re expected to love him for it.

If the 50th Sydney Film Festival were a restaurant, The Honourable Wally Norman would be a meat pie and chips, smothered in tomato sauce, and served with a cob of corn on the side.

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originally posted: 06/08/03 10:54:03
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User Comments

3/14/06 Damien Scott Edgar Not That Good 3 stars
2/15/05 Paul M Micallef is actually the icing on the cake- it's great 4 stars
1/14/05 Kelly Only Micallef prevents this from being one star. 2 stars
12/23/04 steven very funny 5 stars
10/05/04 Lesley Robertson The DVD was $8 at JB. Didn't expect much but loved the film and the jokes. Seen twice now. 4 stars
9/13/04 Mark Gray Great Aussie film gives you a laugh by the minute 5 stars
8/23/04 Lane Some great stuff, especially Micallef 4 stars
5/30/04 Plato Utter shit redeemed only by the ever-reliable Micallef. 2 stars
4/01/04 Justin Just saw on dvd and really laughed a lot. Good dvd extras with HG, Micallef 5 stars
3/02/04 Dennis Enspach Charming, funny movie unfairly caught up in Ozcomedy backlash 5 stars
1/10/04 tim henley Extremely funny. Much underappreciated. 5 stars
11/21/03 David Nathan Best Aust. comedy this year 5 stars
11/19/03 Duano The whole Pipe family loved it! 5 stars
11/17/03 brian sherman very funny 5 stars
11/13/03 Tim Smith Badly written. Decent actors do their best with a thin script. 1 stars
11/11/03 Chris Conti Insultingly bad - go see a good Australian comedy like Getting Square. 1 stars
11/11/03 tod b Excellent: funny and some bits very touching 5 stars
11/08/03 bill pretty funny; Kevin Harrinton gives a moving portrayal 5 stars
11/08/03 amanda at last: an Aussie comedy that's actually funny! 5 stars
10/30/03 richard c bloody funny (even if not the most original flick ever made) 5 stars
10/23/03 Simon Teong Feel good flick, a bit flat in the middle, but some very funny moments. Singo shines 4 stars
9/17/03 steve d good movie 4 stars
9/05/03 elsie this and placid lake are best two Oz comedies of 2003 4 stars
9/02/03 bw funny and enjoyable 5 stars
9/01/03 mike all reviews seem to be written by the producer 1 stars
8/20/03 Alex B e a utiful 5 stars
8/18/03 vince Are you drunk? It's the funniest Aussie comedy this year 5 stars
8/18/03 jenny britain another bad comedy 1 stars
8/03/03 raff great 5 stars
7/10/03 Duano Beaut 5 stars
7/08/03 jo loved every moment and so will you! 5 stars
6/26/03 Film Fester Lovely, warm, funny film. See it! Your review is just plain mean. 5 stars
6/26/03 Leslie Rosen Awsome 5 stars
6/23/03 steven outstanding 5 stars
6/20/03 shimon funniest thing since The Castle 5 stars
6/18/03 Noela good laugh 4 stars
6/13/03 Simone DEFINITELY NEED MORE PAUL KELMAN!!!! 5 stars
6/12/03 Andrew Michaels Great!!! 5 stars
6/11/03 felicity hilarious 5 stars
6/09/03 Jen I agree with Leanne 5 stars
6/09/03 Justine Fantastic. Best script and performance by a goat this year 5 stars
6/08/03 Leanne Brockenshire Brilliant, i love Paul Kelman 5 stars
6/08/03 Tim Incredibly funny 5 stars
6/08/03 P Garifee Loved it! 5 stars
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