Stone Bros

Stone Bros

***1/2

Reviewed by: Anton Bitel

Weird shit, according to an old Australian adage, tends to happen when you're high, and so the stoner movie has always proved an excellent looking glass through which the strange and the picaresque come with their own giggle-inducing pleasures. Richard Frankland's Stone Bros is no exception, as mismatched cousins – earnest, hard-working, virginal Eddie (Luke Carroll) and happy-go-lucky, feckless, priapic Charlie (Leon Burchill) - drive a circuitous route from Perth to Kalgoorlie fuelled mostly by the 186 spliffs (rolled with 'pure purple heads') that they have brought along, encountering on their way such hallucinatory curiosities as vindictive spiders, dynamite-tossing elders and talking demon dogs.

Still, as previous stoner double-acts Cheech and Chong or Harold and Kumar have shown, THC-inspired tomfoolery can serve as a smokescreen for all manner of countercultural observations on society and race, and this is where Stone Bros also comes into its own, with Eddie and Charlie's road trip turning out to be a broader quest for their Aboriginal roots and identity in a postmodern Oz.

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Fed up with the cycle of working and drinking that has become his daily routine in the city, Eddie plans to head back to his ancestral home and family, bringing with him a very different kind of stone that he had promised to return one day to his uncle – except that Charlie has managed to lose Eddie's jacket and with it the stone, and so they set off on an outback odyssey that will reconnect them to (a piece of) the land that defines their culture's heritage and continuity. En route they will hook up with the hitch-hiking musician Vinnie (Valentino del Toro) and their tranny cousin Reggie/Regina (David Page), both of whom are travelling their own path from identity crisis to self-discovery.

It may unfold in roughly the same big backyard of Western Australia as Philip Noyce's Rabbit-Proof Fence (2002), but what is in every sense new in Stone Bros is its setting in the post-Reconcilaition, post-Howard here and now. So while an early sequence in a petrol station presents simmering racism in its most familiar form, this is quickly replaced within the film by an altogether more modern set of behaviours, as White Australians are satirised for their over-compensatory attempts to ingratiate themselves with the natives.

Writer/director Richard Frankland's first two short films, Who Killed Malcolm Smith (1992) and No Way To Forget (1996), both drew on his experiences as a field officer to the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, so one might expect the sequence from Stone Bros that he has set in a back-of-beyond Prison Farm to be full of misery and mistreatment – but instead the white policeman in charge of the pen is a likable buffoon named Mark (Peter Phelps) who has been taking 'dreaming workshops' and craves nothing more than to be 'initiated' into the Aboriginal community. Evidently Eddie, whose complexion is relatively fair next to Charlie's, is not the only one to be anxious about not being black enough.

Meanwhile, Eddie's own 'dreaming' - or at least his ganja-inflected dream - takes place not in some primal landscape of mythic prehistory, but rather in a latter-day supermarket. Here traditional bush tucker has been packaged and commodified, and Eddie is mobbed by a zombie-like army of white consumers all smothering him in their attempts to say 'sorry', or to have him marry their daughters ("you see, my husband wants one in the family.").

Similarly, Charlie both deploys and travesties the political discourse of race relations to express his disapproval of using a condom – and more specifically a pale-coloured condom - during intercourse. "No white man's gonna colonise my cock," he protests, before liberally applying chocolate sauce to the contraceptive ("bet it tastes better too", comments his partner for the night). And so Stone Bros is perhaps the first Australian film to take the rapidly shifting body politic of the nation's race relations and to roll it into fresh, full-flavoured comedy. It's some weird shit, all right, and a bit hit or miss at times, but stuff this strong requires just one or two hits to get you where you need to go.

Reviewed on: 05 Mar 2010
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Two cousins embark on a road trip fuelled by spliffs.
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Director: Richard Frankland

Writer: William Bainbridge, Richard Frankland

Starring: Sam Allen, Rohanna Angus, Mark Bin Bakar, Heath Bergersen, Cameron Bunney, Leon Burchill, Luke Carroll, Shakira Clanton, Shareena Clanton, Sylvia Clarke, Gary Cooper, Jai Courtney, John Fairhead, Kylie Farmer, Travis Hart

Year: 2009

Runtime: 90 minutes

Country: Australia

Festivals:

Australia 2010

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If you like this, try:

Rabbit-Proof Fence