Men's Group

Men's Group


Reviewed by: Anton Bitel

Everyone knows what a chick flick is. Think Sex And The City (2008). Think Caramel (2007). Think Fried Green Tomatoes At The Whistle Stop Cafe (1991). Think Volver (2006). Think Boys On The Side (1995). Think any film where women get together and talk about themselves, life and relationships. But what of the dick flick? There may be no shortage of men on our screen, but when they appear together in the absence of women, it tends to be because they are a criminal gang, or a team of crimefighters, or an institutionalised unit (whether in school, prison, asylum or the armed forces). And – with the exception of the odd Judd Apatow comedy - men together on screen tend to express themselves less through talk than action.

So Men's Group represents a refreshing examination of the collective male psyche through pure drama – not that first-time writer/director Michael Joy in any way ignores men's characteristic difficulties with communication. The male characters here are all in crisis – that is, after all, why they are attending a men's group in the first place – but, nonetheless, they are hardly forthcoming about their problems with alienation, aggression and the difficult bonds of fatherhood.

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Depressed stand-up comedian Freddy (Steve Rodgers) can address his separation anxieties only through angry jokes or role-play with his estranged daughter's stuffed bunny. Elderly Cecil (Don Reid) is articulate on every subject except his own loneliness and guilt. Sadistic, closeted businessman Lucas (Steve Le Marquand) is giving little away. The group's host Paul (Paul Gleeson) is an expert listener but less good at being honest about himself.

Middle-aged, stuck-in-denial Alex (Grant Dodwell), who is the most talkative of the bunch, wonders aloud in the very first session, "How the fuck are we supposed to chew the cud without fuckin' talkin' to one another?" So no wonder bearded, clammed-up builder Moses (Paul Tassone) walks out. He'll be back, though - they all will - and when bereaved Anthony (William Zappa) joins the group for one night and lets it all out immediately, we catch a glimpse of the cathartic power of men simply discussing their feelings together.

"It's good to see blokes talking about stuff, it's good to see people opening up." Coming from Lucas, the least talkative of all the men in the group, these words are somewhat ironised, but his sentiment holds true - especially when, as here, the drama is allowed to unfold with such casual, fly-on-the-wall naturalism. Joy encouraged his players to improvise, and did not let them know from one scene to the next where their characters were headed. The results are ensemble performances of searing, warts-and-all realism, so utterly believable that viewers themselves will feel like silent members of the party, compelled by the power of the proceedings to watch, listen, learn – and maybe join in the conversation after the credits have rolled.

There are no easy answers to the male condition to be found amid all the tragedy, sorrow and despair here - but there is the suggestion that just bringing the issues out into the open can, in and of itself, be a vehicle of change. Men, it seems, would do well to behave more like cinema's women – even at the risk of creating what Moses so charmingly calls "a fuckin' sook-fest".

Reviewed on: 16 Mar 2009
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Six men, each with heavy emotional baggage, meet once a week to talk, with unexpected consequences.

Director: Michael Joy

Writer: Michael Joy, John L Simpson

Starring: Grant Dodwell, Don Reid, Paul Gleeson, Steve Rodgers, Steve Le Marquand, Paul Tassone, William Zappa, Matthew Waters, Leroy Page, Maria Simpson, Lily Kate Simpson, Louise McCabe, Jo Allebone

Year: 2008

Runtime: 104 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: Australia


Australia 2009

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