Thursday, September 09, 2004

Danny Deckchair

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 8 September 2004 at Loews Copley Place #9 (first-run)

Funny how this one just dropped off the radar - two months ago, Landmark Theaters was pushing it with a contest and promos in front of absolutely every movie they played, but when it finally arrived in Boston, it not only didn't play the Kendall Square, but just Copley Place. After one week, it was sharing a screen with Baby Geniuses 2: Superbabies. And to add insult to injury, Superbabies got the 7pm show, leaving Danny Deckchair with only one 9:30pm showtime. Though not much more than a pleasant romantic comedy, Danny Deckchair deserves better than that.

"Pleasant" is probably the best word to describe Danny Deckchair. The story, in which a man floats away from his home after tying forty-odd balloons to a lawn chair, is based on an actual event, although I doubt Larry Walters wound up landing in the back yard of a single woman who would be a much better fit for him than his current girlfriend when he pulled this stunt in real life. The characters are likable, even the ones stuck with the usually thankless task of being the obstacles between Danny (Rhys Ifans) and Glenda (Miranda Otto).

Writer/director Jeff Balsmeyer is occasionally guilty of stretching a somewhat lightweight story - a subplot about a state parliament race seems to exist for no reason than to keep Danny occupied long enough that he doesn't seem to be callously tossing long-time girlfriend Trudy (Justine Clarke) aside as soon as he meets Glenda. He also misses some obvious bits of the plat, as the question of why Danny makes no attempt to assure Trudy or his friends that he's all right is flat-out ignored. The end is a little obvious and drawn-out.

To Mr. Balsmeyer's credit, his previous work as a storyboard artist serves him well in terms of telling the story visually. When we first see Glenda, for instance, she's watching a fireworks display that's part of her hometown of Clarence's "Macadamia Festival"... alone, in her backyard, surrounded by hedges on all sides. That one shot tells us all we need to know about her without saying a word. Similarly, the establishing shots of Clarence show the town surrounded by trees, implying the disconnection from the Sydney suburb where Danny took off but also a bright, cozy small town where everybody knows everybody else. There are several other examples of his skill at using physical space rather than words to make points.

He's also got a nice cast. Rhys Ifans is probably best known for playing skinny goofballs, though he's not as skinny here as he is in earlier films. Still a goof, though, all restless and nervous energy when he's stuck at home during a planned camping holiday. Miranda Otto is probably best known in the States as Eowyn in the latter two Lord of the Rings movies and Human Nature (where she was also paired with Ifans). She reminds me a little of Julianne Moore's understated beauty, and is winning as a woman seeming to just now remember how to enjoy life. Justine Clarke probably has the trickiest character, as Trudy is somewhat superficial, wanting a more glamorous life than her goofball construction-worker boyfriend will ever be interested in. As much as she clearly enjoys her newfound fame when Danny floats off, and more-than-flirts with the reporter covering the story, she never becomes the story's villain, and still cares about Danny.

Danny Deckchair is a sweet, air-filled marshmallow of a movie. Its Aussie accent works in its favor; set this movie in America and maybe its relaxed, colorful characters seem naïve, as ridiculous a stereotype as that may be. It makes for a fun movie, though.

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