Last Sunday, Sunday screened on the last day of the International Byron Bay Film Festival. Sunday is the first feature film of New Zealand director Michelle Joy Lloyd. It stars Dustin Clare, who is a Byron Bay local, and his real-life wife, Camille Keenane. They play Charlie and Eve – a couple who are estranged, in love and pregnant.
Charlie and Eve met during a holiday and had a fling. Eve ended up pregnant and returned to her hometown in New Zealand to have the baby. Charlie works in Australia as a convoy driver and can only see Eve three months of the year. Despite this, he insists that she is ‘the one’ and that he loves her and just why can’t she make things work and be a single parent for 75% of the year so that he can chime in when he has time off work? Eve is not that keen on Charlie’s proposition. She is also vaguely annoyed by his incredulous response when she tells him that she has to keep working. This is fair enough, because the only support he gives her is buying her two stuffed toys and a device that allows her to lactate into a bottle so that their child can have breast milk while she’s at work.
Clearly Charlie needs to get it together, so Eve has a new boyfriend. Charlie is annoyed because he thinks she still loves him and he tries to thwart their burgeoning romance by urinating on a blue toothbrush in Eve’s bathroom. This backfires somewhat predictably when Eve tells him that the blue toothbrush is hers (moral: never assume that all blue things belong to boys). He says, “I weed on it” and she does not seem surprised, nor does she seem particularly fazed. In that moment, I realised that they understood each other better than I ever could.
Aside from its ridiculous protagonists, Sunday is peppered with stilted, clichéd dialogue. In one scene, they are at Eve’s grandparents’ house. Her grandparents are nowhere to be seen. They are standing in the living room discussing an albino person to whom Eve happens to be tenuously related. As they admire photographs we see a lounge chair next to them over which is draped in two fox skins resplendent with taxidermied heads. What does it all mean? I don’t know. Charlie says, “Remember the first thing you asked me? You asked me, would you rather give up sex or food? And we both said food.” Then we see a flashback to them having sex for the first time – a strange scene which stars Eve’s well-toned legs more than either of their persons.
Lloyd loves to juxtapose her characters’ past relationship with their current relationship. The former consists mostly of shots of them at the beach. It is brightly lit, all blue waters and pearly white teeth, and they very much resemble a couple out of a stock photograph. They frolic endlessly in the water. These flashback scenes do not add much dimension to the portrayal of their relationship. All we learn is that Eve used to smile more and be less pregnant. Also, they are both able to swim.
Lloyd is also a fan of the heavy-handed metaphor. Sunday is set in Christchurch, following the Christchurch earthquake and there are many shots of wrecked buildings and debris, surrounded by fences and construction sites. Christchurch is trying to rebuild, just as Eve and Charlie are trying to rebuild their relationship. At one point Charlie finds Eve in her room and she tells him about a dream she had the night before – they were both young children on swings and they were swinging higher and higher and then Eve jumps off to grab a red balloon to fly away, but then she looks down and her arm is missing. She starts crying. She doesn’t want to have only one arm. Charlie reassures her that it’s just a dream and that she has all her limbs.
Aspects of the dialogue made me feel confused and uncomfortable. For example, Eve initially lies and tells Charlie their baby is going to be a girl. Then, when she has learned to trust him she tells him that their child will actually be a boy. She lied about it because some men think that smarter women produce male offspring and she wanted to make sure that Charlie didn’t care about those sorts of things. Another strange conversation takes place after Charlie admits to urinating on Eve’s toothbrush. He tells her that she should not find a boyfriend in New Zealand because it is a land of men castrated by rampant feminists. This is the only reference made to race and feminism in the entire film.
The plot is predictable and the characters so awkward it is at times risible. When Sunday trailed off to its lame end, I was relieved.