Dorky and earnest, aboriginal teen Willie (Rocky McKenzie) proves a dissident when he escapes Catholic boarding school in 1969 Perth, extinguishing the fire and brimstone of Father Benedictus (a hammy, German-inflected Geoffrey Rush) through cheeky song: There's nothing I would rather be/Than to be an Aborigine/And watch you take my precious land away.
Hooking up with a rascally drunken hobo and a hippie couple in a VW bus, Willie showtunes his way home to Broome on a madcap, sunny-day road trip, eventually reconnecting with his evangelical mama and the girl who snubbed him (Australian Idol runner-up Jessica Mauboy).
It's easy to understand why indigenous filmmaker Rachel Perkins' energetic adaptation of a two-decade-old stage musical has become a homegrown hit in Oz. It nakedly attempts to be a timeless coming-of-age story about cultural identity, but with humor and music used to soften the social injustices. But the film is too broad and tacky to engage on a universal level, or at least stateside. The choreography is sloppy and lifeless; the outmoded blend of vintage rock, country and Broadway styles doesn't click; and the characters are such caricatures that it's no wonder the entire cast is overacting.
Oh, but to Lord of the Rings cinematographer Andrew Lesnie: well done, mate.