Strange Bedfellows (2004)

Reviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 07/06/05 05:18:26

"A cute, endearing piece of fluff."
3 stars (Average)

There is absolutely nothing in “Strange Bedfellows” that you don’t see coming, or haven’t seen before, or both, and yet it somehow remains a complete delight anyway. This is a warm and fuzzy movie that relies on stale clichés to move the plot forward and a feel-good attitude to keep us watching despite ourselves. I want to yell at the filmmakers for sticking to such a tired formula, but I just can’t. They made me smile too much.

The story takes place in the teeny Aussie town of Yackandandah, which I will assume is only a few steps away from the quirky small town we saw in “Danny Deckchair;” it’s next door, if only in spirit, to the cozy hamlets of “Waking Ned Devine,” “The Matchmaker,” “Brassed Off!,” etc. This is a place where mailmen toss their deliveries onto the porch of the local general store and peel off before the store’s owner can run out, shaking a fist. This is a place where everyone’s busy planning for the big hoedown scheduled for the end of the movie. This is a place where the movie house still shows classics, and the owner lives in the projection booth.

That projectionist is Vince (Paul Hogan), who’s having some tax problems at the moment. But lucky for him, the government just passed a new law stating that gay couples are entitled to equal rights, tax-wise, and the whole thing’s retroactive, meaning he can get five years’ worth of rebated deductions if he and his partner file jointly.

Except, well, Vince is straight. But hey, the taxman doesn’t know that, does he? And so Vince slyly convinces his best mate Ralph (Michael Caton) to go gay with him, at least on paper.

This being a movie, trouble must stem from this ploy, so it’s not long before Vince and Ralph are informed that an auditor will be stopping by to investigate the validity of their claim. Which means, you guessed it, Vince and Ralph must learn how to be gay, hilarity ensuing.

The film, very simple in its delivery, would crumble under the weight of its problems - it wraps up with a big speech delivered to all the townsfolk, which we already saw in “Deckchair,” not to mention a hundred movies before that - if not for the crisp performances of Hogan and Caton. Both actors bring their best here, deftly handling the comedy without forcing it. The stars avoid the bungling and the broadness that often comes with such a farce; they take the low-key approach, which allows the movie to win us over with its charms, instead of pushing us away with the dopiness of the situations.

Watch, for instance, how expertly the two handle the scene in which they fill out their tax forms. They let the humor come from the characters, two old blokes who find themselves over their heads. Caton gets all the best lines (“The backyard faces northeast…” is how Ralph initially describes his “orientation”), and there’s a joy to be found in seeing these two dear friends bicker about the strangest things.

The “dear friends” angle is the movie’s ultimate point. Gay or straight, friendship is friendship, and love is not limited to romance. That big speech at the dance discusses love, which can be read by the other characters as meaning one kind of love, but we know it’s all about being diehard pals. Mates, as the Aussies say.

It’s endlessly likable, this message, and so we don’t mind the naiveté with which director/co-writer Dean Murphy handles the themes of acceptance. We get the expected scenes in which Vince and Ralph, and then the townsfolk, confront homosexuality and their views on it, leading, of course, to a greater understanding and a nice amount of tolerance. Murphy drops all this on us in a slightly awkward manner; granted, the detour that takes us to a gay nightclub in Sydney is a genuine treat, but it’s also too clichéd. You can count off the beats until each character drops his previous homophobia.

Still, the message is a good one (and while it may seem old hat to most, there are still those in the world who could use seeing it for the first time), and there’s enough casual charm here to go around twice. “Bedfellows” may not be anything new, but at least it’s both funny and likable. It’s a chance to see two great comic actors in peak form, and even if you have to dig through a few stale plotlines, it’s still worth it.

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