The latest effort from Matthew Saville (best known for the films Noise and Felony) focuses on a depressed real estate agent (of a certain generation) as he reconnects with a mother figure, grapples with the exploitative nature of his work and tries to form a meaningful relationship with his ex-wife and son. Funded in part by the Adelaide Film Festival Investment Fund, Screen Australia and the Australian Directors Guild, it’s easy to see how Saville has filled his Australian content edict, with every scene and every plot development oozing “Aussie stories about our modern Aussie blokes in Australia”. My grandma’s going to love it, but it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good cinema.
A Month of Sundays follows Frank (Anthony LaPaglia), an Adelaide-based realtor who has lost himself in later life. After the death of his estranged mother and a divorce with his (still amicable) wife, Wendy (Justine Clark), Frank is depressed, yet his upbringing places him in the generation of men who supress and ignore their emotion. This makes for a role that lacks nuance, as LaPaglia understatedly trudges from sequence to sequence, with the character’s developing emotional arc never emerging in the physicality of LaPaglia’s performance as the film progresses. One night, Frank receives a call from a woman claiming to be his mother; instead of explaining the misunderstanding, Frank engages her in conversation, a futile attempt to patch up his fraught relationship with his dead parent. Once it becomes apparent to Sarah (Julia Blake) that Frank is not, in fact, her son Damien (Donal Forde), the two agree to meet, falling into something of a mother-son relationship – albeit, a far more honest one than either of them is used to experiencing – much to her son’s chagrin. Through this, Frank begins to regain his self-confidence whilst Sarah’s health begins to deteriorate.1
Frustratingly, this film is far too understated to justify the lack of subtlety in its themes and portrayal of a certain generation of Australian life. This is completely to its detriment, sullying its chances of fully connecting with an international audience, and squandering some stand-out performances from John Clarke as Frank’s boss Phillip – who is responsible for nearly all of the comedy in this ‘Comedy/Drama’ affair – as well as Julia Blake and Justine Clark, who are the only people that manages to give this production a semblance of life. LaPaglia has shown himself to be capable of far more nuance from this sort of character – just look at his role in Holding The Man earlier this year – so its a shame to see him sit fully within his comfortable, awkward shell throughout. Even in a comedic moment midway into the piece, which sees Frank bossing around the crew on the set of his wife’s TV show who assume he’s important because he’s in a suit,2 LaPaglia plays the same character, never revealing another side of Frank to the audience, making the whole sequence feel clunky and unrealistic. It’s not only in performances that the film feels stuck between genres; discounting a handful of choice scenes, by the film’s end we’re left with many unexplored emotional avenues that serve only to reinforce the film’s stuntedness in that regard.3
It’s not all bad, though – Mark Wareham’s cinematography, while nothing inventive, is very impressive, with beautiful, professional shots of Adelaide’s suburbs springing to life on screen.4 In fact, all of the technical aspects of this film are extremely well executed, demonstrating a wealth of Aussie talent involved in the project behind the scenes. The same wealth of talent can’t readily be seen in the film’s tropes of Australiana, though: running the gamut of exploitative housing prices, men of a certain generation, strained relationships with family members,5 and, of course, our diggers.
Whilst the final product feels poorly paced and dull, it doesn’t feel like an unfinished mess, suggesting that Saville has completed the exact project that he wanted to make. The film culminates in an ending that perfectly fits the rules and regulations of satisfying self-contained scriptwriting 101, but does little to make A Month of Sundays worth noting. While proficiently executed, it’s a con, designed to make audiences feel warm and fuzzy inside through the enforcement of lazy tropes, tacking on a feeling of finality that feigns at strong-pacing and sound plotting throughout the film, rather than demonstrating it.