Georgie (Kelly MacDonald) is a forty-something in a waning relationship with a rich fisherman, Jim (David Wenham). She often goes out on a late-night swim. During one of those swims, she runs into Lu (Garrett Hedlund), a slightly younger man who fishes in Jim’s territory. She runs into him again, when her car breaks down and he must give her a ride somewhere, who cares. Audiences know where this lead, and they spend the next twenty minutes either on hotel beds or on his bed, cuddling. What follows that is some tame pillow talk. These movie stars do their best to look like normal people with normal bodies. Their slight age difference is not a factor, but their class differences might tear them apart.
That is the basic premise of Dirt Music, an adaptation of the award winning Tim Winton novel of the same name. This might be a bad adaptation from Jack Thorne. But Winton also wrote Breath, making me assume that his seaside romances don’t inherently engender sympathy. Unless he has a third novel that can turn into a good film, Australians should look somewhere else for literary adaptations. The characters are hollow, and their motivations vacillate more than the average human does. The first act has Jim indulging in some mustache twirling behavior. But he stops for two reasons, one of those reasons being soap opera dumb. The film also gives Lu a backstory, explaining the drifting that he does when act two kicks in.
The last character it develops though is Georgie. She is the least compelling person in the love triangle both because of that writing. MacDonald’s accent work is competent, and she is great in moments. She also doesn’t act either too old or too immature. But she does not push her emotions during the first act. Another odd choice she makes is ending her sentences by making her voice go higher. All of this is disappointing because MacDonald is usually a versatile actress. Instead of MacDonald and Hedlund, there were plans for Rachel Weisz and Heath Ledger to star in an adaptation in 2008, but even those two couldn’t save this film.
MacDonald’s chemistry with Hedlund is, again, arguable, so it is probably a blessing that their characters spend an hour or less of the movie apart. Georgie spends this hour moping at Lu’s house since she has no idea where to start looking for him. And Lu’s scenes explain the music part of Dirt Music. Lu was in a bad that disbanded for tragic reasons, and he basically travels throughout Australia, running away from Georgie and from music. But of course, the music comes back to him. Someone gives him a guitar to play to make him look and sound like some Byronic hero. This is when the film uses a lot of close ups to bring the emotion that it should have brought earlier.
The film’s close-ups also allow for Georgie to react to Jim’s bombshells. Or for Lu to react to the literal ghosts of his band mates and those band mates’ child (Ava Caryofyllis). Others call films manipulative, which is a valid criticism when such manipulations do not work. The ghost angle also adds magic realism to this romance. And since Lu is moping with an injury on a beach island, there is a travelogue element to all of this too. It also have more Indigenous presence than Breath, I’ll give it that.
I get it, Australia’s nice, the jobs market is better, I should go. Anyway, this was also a crime film at one point but it decided to drop that, as one genre and sub genre go on top of the other haphazardly. But Gregor Jordan’s direction does not push harder on those genre trappings, and the acting reflects that too. I root for death for at least half of the romance movies I see and this is one of them.
- Rated: NR
- Genre: Crime, Drama, Romance
- Release Date: 7/17/2020
- Directed by: Gregor Jordan
- Starring: Ava Caryofyllis, David Wenham, Garrett Hedlund, Kelly Macdonald
- Produced by: Amanda Posey, Angie Fielder, Finola Dwyer, Polly Staniford
- Written by: Jack Thorne, Tim Winton
- Studio: Aquarius Films, Film4, Pelgo Films, Wildgaze Films