FAFA: Strange Planet (1999)

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It seems that the first two films I watched for this assignment have a common theme. Claudia Karvan. This is unsurprising, as it is no secret to anyone who knows me that I do indeed love Claudia Karvan. I named my second guitar Karvan and my ukulele Frankie (in honour of Karvan’s character of Love My Way.) Obsessions aside, Strange Planet sees Karvan having grown up from the young Ally that we meet in High Tide.

To be completely fair from the get-go, I came to Strange Planet with perhaps unfair expectations. I am a HUGE fan of Emma-Kate Croghan’s first feature Love and Other Catastrophes. I saw it only within the last year, and it was just as I began my studies at Melbourne University, where it is shot. Beyond the location recognition, I felt completely in sync with all of the main characters. They are in a place where I am currently situated. Students who flail about avoiding supervisors, dealing with administration rigmarole and dealing with the perennial share house problems. Strange Planet sees similar characters having moved on from their university days, in what we could imagine to be five years later from Catastrophes. They are facing similar problems that were seen in the hit television show The Secret Life of Us.

Alice (Naomi Watts), Sally (Alice Garner) and Judy (Claudia Karvan)

We first meet the six main characters on New Years Eve. The film sees the lives of these main characters play out for the next 12 months, culminating in another New Years Eve. The choice of picking such a significant time for 20-somethings is a wise choice. Not only do people from 18 and upwards spend much time planning what their New Years Eve will be, but spend just as much time ruminating over what was, was not and what coulda, shoulda, woulda happened.

Judy (Claudia Karvan), Alice (Naomi Watts) and Sally (Alice Garner) all live together. Ewan (Tom Long), Joel (Aaron Jeffery) and Neil (Felix Williamson) all work together at a law firm. The two groups do not know each other, but they share similar stories. Judy and Ewan both have slight existential crises relating to their love lives and career objectives. Alice and Joel are still coming to terms with having been dumped by their respective lovers. Sally and Neil seem to live kooky side adventures to the more serious tribulations of the other characters.

The female leads are strong, but the male leads hold less interest. Tom Long’s character seems to lack significant personality and his presence just seems to drain the film. It is mainly the character, but I did not find him too enthralling. Aaron Jeffrey’s Joel becomes fairly insufferable after repetitive scenes of playing a forlorn and heartbroken guy, citing no interest in his character. It is Felix Williamson who sustains some interest with Neil, the perennially unlucky guy who turns to drastic measures to find a companion.

Although not complete carbon copies, it is foreseeable early on that there will be a perfect pairing off. As to whether that actually occurs, well…you’ll just have to see the film to find out!

Claudia Karvan and Naomi Watts have been handed the most expansive roles, and both handle their roles with grace and ease. Alice is an emotionally affected woman with integrity and no showiness. We feel sorry for her but we do not pity her. Judy is ambitious, has a Masters degree, and naturally has trouble finding a job. She sees an opportunity for advancement with a character played by Hugo Weaving, and she takes it. They are dejected, hopeful, opportunistic and human with simple ambitions. Alice Garner gets to play a zany character as a subsidiary to the real problems of these other characters, but is nonetheless wonderful.

Timing is everything, as they say. Timing, I believe, is one of the main reasons why I connected so strongly with Catastrophes. It may seem like I’m unfairly comparing these two films, but I simply cannot escape it. I wanted to love this film with all of my heart. However, I did not and cannot force myself to love this film. But there is good news. I am holding onto the timing factor, and can already envisage enjoying this film on another level at another time in my life. Croghan’s two films speak to a particular generation who are either living the reality of her stories, or can date back to their memories of similar times. Employing Stavros Kazantzidis (one of the co-writers on Catastrophes), Croghan has made a much slicker looking film that her previous effort. It just does not seem as fresh as her previous effort. However, I do look forward to revisiting this film, as I do believe that the stories within it are timeless and will hold potency throughout the forthcoming years.

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