Judge Clark Douglas will not rest until he is proclaimed an honorary Aborigine.
Going home never felt so goo.
The year is 1969, and an exuberant Aborigine teen named Willie (Rocky McKenzie) is coming of age in the quaint pearling port of Broome, West Australia. His mother (Deborah Mailman, The Book of Revelation) hopes Willie will grow up to be a priest; a future which serves as a constant source of dismay for Willie. Now matter how fervently the stern Father Benedictus (Geoffrey Rush, The King's Speech) promotes the virtue of the church, Willie yearns for something more. Eventually, Willie determines to run away and create a new life for himself. Determined to humble his impudent apprentice, Father Benedictus follows Willie's trail and vows to drag the disrespectful teen back home.
The story I've just described probably sounds like a grim coming-of-age tale; perhaps a variation on Philip Noyce's Rabbit-Proof Fence. However, "grim" is just about the last word one could use to accurately describe Brand New Day, which turns out to be a wacky, frantic musical with a love of mildly naughty innuendo and cartoonish characterization. This film doesn't adopt the Tyler Perry method of fusing dark drama with wacky humor; it transforms material traditionally used for dark drama into a wellspring of wacky humor. It doesn't always work, but I'm quite certain you haven't seen anything else quite like this.
Brand New Day is at its best when it embraces full-tilt absurdity and just goes wild. The songs presented are generally fun, and one of them is so infectious (a goofy fusion of Al Jolson, Cole Porter, and Busby Berkeley which contains the recurring line, "There's nothing I would rather be/than an Aborigine") that the film gives it two full-length performances. The choreography is a bit sloppy and the singing is as hit-and-miss as the average episode of American Idol (Rush's vocals are so wobbly that he only joins in with a larger group on choruses, and his dancing is an amusingly awkward series of agitated gestures), but everyone's clearly having a wonderful time and loving that fact that they're presenting a statement of racial pride in such a gleefully kooky method.
There are many scenes in which Brand New Day feels like an animated movie come to life, as the actors engage in all sorts of rubber-faced overreacting. The characters are kind of one-dimensional, but in the way that Bugs Bunny, Elmer Fudd, Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote are one-dimensional—they do their thing, and they do it well. The film is only damaged when it tries to be earnest in a more traditional manner (some of the romantic scenes come to mind), as the thin nature of the story becomes more evident as the silliness meter drops. Fortunately, most of the big moments work, including a scene of biological musical chairs in which almost all of the characters discover that they're related to each other in some way.
While I can see some objecting to some of the heavier themes (particularly the bigotry present in Australia at that point in time) being handled in such a lightweight manner, Brand New Day is best accepted for what it is: a goofy, harmless comedy which occasionally throws some well-intentioned jabs at racism. Yes, the religious elements are handled in broad cliché, but so is everything else in this movie. Certain character arcs make very little sense, and sometimes the humor seems a tad strained. Despite all of this, I was charmed by this wacky little thing.
Brand New Day looks solid on DVD, offering sturdy detail, strong black levels and bright (oh, so very bright) colors which just about pop off the screen. The film is almost irresponsibly luminous visually, as the filmmakers have given everything a sun-drenched look which radiates positivity at every turn. A handful of darker scenes look a little murky, but there aren't many of them. Audio is also strong, as the musical numbers have a lot of vigor and are well-mixed. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout, too. A few of the accents are a little thick, but nothing most English-speaking viewers will struggle with. There are no extras include.
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