Judge Diane Wild had no idea that a deckchair could do such things.
With a big dream and a little altitude, anything's possible.
The central premise of Danny Deckchair—that a man would try to fly using a lawn chair and balloons—is so ridiculous, it must be based on truth. And the truth is, in 1982, Larry Walters of Los Angeles used helium weather balloons to lift off in his aluminum chair, finally landing 10 miles away after a flight three miles above ground.
Facts of the Case
Danny Morgan is a cement worker in Sydney, Australia, who first appears onscreen gleefully buried in concrete. Since Danny is played by Rhys Ifans of Notting Hill and Human Nature fame, it won't come as a great surprise to learn that this guy is a little left of center. On the eve of his annual vacation, his live-in girlfriend Trudy (Justine Clarke), who fancies herself a hot-shot real estate agent, tells him she has to work and can't accompany him on his much-anticipated camping trip.
After discovering that she has not only lied to him but is ashamed of his blue-collar job, Danny cheers himself up with one of his crazy schemes. He ties helium balloons to a deckchair to see if they will make him airborne. They do, as he discovers at a barbecue when his friends accidentally let go of the chair. Unfortunately, he has left his scissors behind and has no way to get himself down…until he finally crash lands in the back yard of the home of Glenda Lake (Miranda Otto, Lord of the Rings) in the tiny town of Clarence.
Glenda is a bit of an outcast, partly because of her job as the only parking cop in town, and partly because she has isolated her lonely life from prying eyes. When the police and townsfolk trace the mysterious object falling from the sky to Glenda's house, she conceals Danny's identity by claiming it was only a firecracker, and says that the new man staying with her is her old university professor come for a visit.
Danny quickly gets a job as campaign manager for a local politician, and his affinity for the "little guy" soon has the town looking to him for inspiration. While Trudy continues her search for Danny with the help of a handsome television reporter, Danny enjoys his new life and new prestige, and most definitely does not want to be found.
The gangling Rhys Ifans makes an unlikely romantic hero, which is exactly the best kind. His wildly unshaven look, which is on display in the first part of the movie, is hardly one to make female heads turn, but he cleans up well and possesses an everyman charm. Miranda Otto is lovely here, not in the ethereal Eowyn way, but in a gorgeous girl-next-door way, and she shows a warm comedic touch that contrasts nicely with Danny's goofiness.
The movie calls for us to believe that they are instantly smitten with each other, but it develops their relationship slowly and shyly, so we can buy the pairing despite the gaps in logic related to how they met. For instance: guy crash lands in her tree, she sees a news report about a man who's missing after taking off in a flying deckchair, and she doesn't make the connection.
There are also tired comedic conventions, like pointless lies and withholdings of the truth. It's a bit of a mystery why Glenda lies about Danny's appearance in her life, or why he doesn't reveal to her who he is. Throughout the film, we are expected to accept that if his identity were revealed, he would have no choice but to return to his old life.
However—and I mean this as a big however—if you are willing to park the logic center of your brain, you will be rewarded with a terrifically sweet movie. And not sickly cotton candy sweet, but perfect, milk chocolate covered almond sweet. The script is charming, despite its flaws, as are Ifans and Otto.
The commentary with Ifans and director/writer Jeff Balsmeyer is very entertaining, and reveals, among other things, that Ifans may not have to stretch his acting chops too much to portray the likeably odd characters he does so well. Look for the commentary under the Set Up menu rather than Special Features, which contains trailers as well as a 20 minute featurette that is full of praise for all its stars—yawn—but also shows insight into the special effects, which never intrude on the light touch of this frothy movie. The scenes of Danny floating in the Austrian skies are beautiful and, yes, uplifting.
The video quality is above average, with appealingly warm colors, though it's marred slightly by some grain and softness. The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track does well for a low-budget, dialogue-oriented movie. A thunderstorm and fireworks display give the rear channels a bit of a workout, and the surrounds are used to nice effect.
Danny Deckchair is not cinema verite. It's light and fluffy fare that demands a huge suspension of disbelief, but it's definitely worth the effort. So check your skepticism at the DVD player door and soar along with the whimsical story.
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary with Jeff Balsmeyer and Rhys Ifans
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