This droll, low budget Australian comedy is not a home run, but it’s a solid base hit. (I suppose I should come up with a better metaphor based on whatever wacky sports they play in Australia, but oh well.)
Narrated by one of his sons, the movie is the story of the efforts of a man (Michael Caton) to fight the government’s purchasing of the family home by eminent domain for the expansion of the Melbourne airport. (The title comes from the “A man’s home is his castle” expression, which evidently they also have in Australia.)
The family is a comic collection of losers and misfits, but one thing I appreciated is that they’re such sincere and good-hearted folks, so loving and appreciative of each other, so eminently likable, that you feel you’re having a good-natured laugh at their charming idiosyncrasies rather than laughing at them in any kind of a cruel or superior way.
The father is an especially appealing fellow in how supportive he is of his family, and what a positive attitude he has about life in general. He’s convinced his crummy, noisy little house by the airport is a dream home, his neighbors the best bunch of friends a guy could have, his utterly incompetent lawyer something other than utterly incompetent, etc. (As to the last, I love the fact that the lawyer himself is so much more aware of his own limitations. I have a friend who once said, “I tend to be self-deprecating. For damn good reason.” That well could be this lawyer’s motto.)
But most of all he thinks he’s blessed with a family that’s quite the opposite of the dimwits and mediocrities we see them as. He’s full of enthusiastic praise every night for the decidedly ordinary culinary efforts of his wife, which she plays along with, beaming with pride, though she knows just what he’s up to. (“This is wonderful! This is amazing! What is this?” “It’s ice cream, dear.” “Yeah, but what did you do with it?” “I scooped it out of a tin.” “Well it’s the best I’ve ever had. You’ve outdone yourself again!”)
When he meets a man at the courthouse who’s there to see his son plead his first case, he tells him how wonderful it is and how proud he must be, and immediately compares it to his own joy when his daughter was accepted to beauty school. To him it’s all just so marvelous when children succeed in life beyond their parents’ wildest dreams.
He’s a terrific character, the kind of guy who is intimidated by no one, and looks down on no one, but who automatically treats as a friend anyone who’s got the decency to behave as a good bloke.
The narration and the dialogue are consistently clever and funny. One recurring gag that’s always good for a chuckle is the father’s penchant for finding unlikely bargains. The sons are constantly finding ads for the most obscure of items and asking his opinion. His initial response to the asking price is always a snort and a “He’s dreamin’!” But if he can haggle for a better price, he’s interested. If it’s inconceivable he’ll ever have any possible use for the item, well, then he’s only interested if he can get an even better bargain.
The main weakness of the movie is the storyline about his trying to save his house from eminent domain. It’s functional as something on which to hang the gags, but it carries only minimal inherent interest and tends to slow the pace of the film.
Plus it’s not at all clear they’re in the right in their fight anyway. There are suggestions along the way that the expansion plan is a corrupt deal to benefit a well-connected mega-corporation, and that for a little more money the airport could just as easily expand in a different, uninhabited, direction, but that angle is never developed. Instead, when push comes to shove they seem to rely in court on the basic moral argument that no one should ever have to leave a home to which they’ve become emotionally attached.
A feel-good sentiment for sure, but even a moment’s thought indicates that something so sweeping would invalidate all instances of eminent domain on principle and would be a) far from a slam dunk morally, and b) a “legal argument” there is zero chance a court would take seriously.
But I know, it’s a comedy, you’re not supposed to think too much.
I also enjoyed the ’60’s soundtrack, a mix of original songs and more recent covers.This is a movie that sometimes fails to rise above sitcom level, but it won me over due to the fact that its style of humor matches my own reasonably well. A worthwhile offering.