Aussie Black Comedy Brings Both Gasps & Giggles [SXSW]

Mar 11, 2024

It’s so hard to crack the black comedy nut, which can shatter with too little or too much earnestness, trauma, chuckles, and/or heavy thematic considerations. Gasps and giggles are needed in perfect balance to keep the pressure on without fragmenting the object, and it’s a trick “Audrey” pulls off with seeming ease. Broad, to be sure, but razor sharp and thematically consistent throughout its tight 92-minute runtime, the film by director Natalie Bailey is a surprising delight with both its heart and head in the right place.
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The Lipsick family from Australia is composed of four people, but the gravity well of the household sees all of them orbiting around just one: 17-year-old Audrey (Josephine Blazier). The family matriarch, Ronnie (Jackie van Beek), is an over-the-hill has-been actress who has devoted all her time and energy to making Audrey the star Ronnie never was. All emotional consideration, time, money, and attention are funneled in this singular direction, leaving husband Cormack (Jeremy Lindsay Taylor) and disabled younger sister Norah (Hannah Diviney) on the figurative outside looking in.
The combined family resources and attention have turned Audrey into a spoiled, spiteful, and mean-spirited brat, which is part of the reason no one seems especially upset when she has a freak accident and slips into a coma. Free of Audrey’s bullying and the assets dedicated to keeping her aspiring career on track, each of the three remaining family members takes turns enjoying the world without Audrey actively in it. For Ronnie, this means taking Audrey’s place in an acting workshop; for Norah, this means spending more time with Audrey’s boyfriend and taking the fencing lessons they couldn’t previously afford; for Cormack, it means embellishing the truth about Audrey’s accident to get in good with Bourke (Aaron Fa’aoso), who runs a local Christian support group/porn studio.
The world “Audrey” inhabits is one steeped in drama, and the script by Lou Sanz has a lot of fun with this as a narrative framing device. The coma brings the rest of the family into a place where they are living their best, fully realized lives, but for each, it is nothing but a performance. In Ronnie’s case, this is made explicit, as she’s literally playing her daughter by taking Audrey’s identity and participating in the acting workshop, but for Norah and Cormack, it is only slightly less explicit/literal.
A lesser movie would have used Norah and Cormack as props in Ronnie’s improbable journey, but Sanz’s script rotates through each Lipsick in near-equal measure, connecting all through a common thematic journey that speaks to notions of deceit, remorse, potential, shame, and jealousy. The story of each relies on revelations made possible by the others, and to remove any piece would bring the whole house of cards tumbling down.
And while the narrative is shared in pretty equal measure between all of the Lipsicks, the trauma starts with Ronnie’s failed acting aspirations, which taints everyone else (much like the poison motif running throughout “Audrey”). It’s difficult to sell bad acting as a performance, but van Beek is superb at it, here, and bristles with a desperate, aging, try-hard theater kid energy that informs the rest of the movie’s humor and despair. Not to be outdone, Blazier (though comatose for a big chunk of the movie) is no less impressive as the borderline sociopathic teenager with a legitimate gripe about the guardrails placed on her life and ambitions.
It would be a mistake to sleep on the side stories and performances of Taylor and Diviney, though, as each adds a much-needed dose of context and humanity to the proceedings. Cormack’s scenes are some of the funniest of the picture, while Norah’s are often the most profound, and none of it would come off without the impeccable work each actor is doing here. All of them get their big speech moment, and the script doesn’t waste an ounce of the good work these actors are doing to bring these moments to life.
Funny as hell, though sharpened around the edges with deadly serious ideas and intentions, “Audrey” doesn’t pull many punches on its way toward resolution. Keeping with its dramaturgical themes right up to its Greek-inspired denouement, the movie is nothing if not consistent: committing to the bit of the story right up to the last frame. A magnificent balancing act of humor, sadness, and self-realization, “Audrey” is a story about potential, trauma, jealousy, and the potential for traumatic jealousy. [A-]

Disclaimer: This story is auto-aggregated by a computer program and has not been created or edited by filmibee.
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