Bruce Beresford is one of Australia’s most successful and prolific directors.
He is responsible for such classics as Breaker Morant, Puberty Blues, Tender Mercies and Driving Miss Daisy and has a career spanning more than four decades.
In more recent times he has delivered Mao’s Last Dancer, a charming true story about a Chinese ballet dancer.
Unfortunately his latest film Ladies in Black is neither destined to be a classic nor particularly charming.
The movie is set in Sydney, 1959, in the lead-up to Christmas.
Fresh-faced 16-year-old Lisa (Angourie Rice, The Nice Guys) has just started her first job at David Jones-esque department store Goode’s and is finding her way in the real world.
She works with experienced ‘ladies cocktail’ assistants Fay (Rachael Taylor, Red Dog) and Patty (Alison McGirr, Home and Away).
Also working at the store are Miss Cartwright (Noni Hazlehurst, A Place to Call Home) and Slovenian immigrant Magda (Julia Ormond, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button).
The film touches on racism, but not enough to really make a point.
It also delves into feminism, but, again, it’s just skimming the surface.
Overall Ladies in Black leaves you wondering what it’s really trying to say.
Does it have a message or a purpose at all?
It had such potential to be the Aussie equivalent of Brooklyn or some other period coming-of-age tale, but it just leaves you wanting more.
And there might be some ingrained cultural cringe coming into play here, but much of the acting and dialogue seems forced and unrealistic.
Particularly so when Lisa and her mother (Susie Porter, Wentworth) spontaneously dance to Volare in the front yard.
The film does have a couple of saving graces, however, in the form of Ormond’s Magda and fellow immigrant Rudi, played by the ever-delightful Ryan Corr (The Water Diviner). Their characters are fun and vivacious and would probably be more interesting protagonists than Lisa.
Ladies in Black also stars Shane Jacobson, Nicholas Hammond and and features a cameo from singer Kate Miller-Heidke.