In his first Australian film in almost twenty years, director John Duigan, who made the eighties teen masterpiece The Year My Voice Broke, and later its equally impressive sequel, Flirting (which I write about here), makes an interesting return with Careless Love, an extremely well-directed and brilliantly performed character study of a young prostitute set in Sydney.
The film tells the story of Linh (Nammi Le), a university student, who is forced into the world’s oldest profession when the GFC hits and her father is put out of work leaving her as the sole provider for not only herself, but her family as well. On the job she meets a mysterious American, Luke (Peter O’Brien) with whom she begins an unlikely friendship while at the same time starting an honest relationship with fellow university student Jack (Andrew Hazzard) who doesn’t know about her part time job. As you can imagine, it’s not long until her two worlds collide with dire consequences.
The film begins excellently. Its story, like its protagonist, is smart and engaging. Duigan thankfully portrays the scenes of Linh and her clients tactfully and interestingly doesn’t necessarily condemn or condone her choice of work, simply showing that it has both good and bad aspects. Much of the film takes place in a car being driven by Dion (David Field) while Mei and another Asian prostitute, Mint (Ivy Mak) are being driven from job to job. Again Duigan makes the more interesting and less cliché choice of Dion being a genuinely nice guy (contrasting some of the previous roles played by veteran Field) and having the two girls engage in a genuine friendship. Linh’s other various relationships, professional and personal, are all explored thoughtfully and fully. The problem with the film, like so many movies, is the third act. Other than being unnecessarily prolonged (which is fairly forgivable especially when you genuinely enjoy the company of the characters as you do here), the film suffers from a stark change in tone with a brief but noticeably out of place burst of violence and Duigan taking the story from the intimacy he has so well established to a public stage. Despite these fairly major issues, the strength of the first and second acts more than make up for the third.
The performances in the film are fantastic. Nammi Le is sensational as Linh. Her performance is not only brave in the scenes that need it, but as a presence she exudes charisma. Together with Duigan’s again peerless writing of young people, Le as Linh is gracefully witty and completely avoids any semblance of stereotype. Hopefully she will go onto bigger things, she certainly has the talent. Veteran’s Field and O’Brien also do well (although O’Brien’s American accent takes some getting used to) amongst the newcomers on display, including an assured Penny McNamee, as Linh’s friend, who brings something unique to a fairly typical character.
Despite some misgivings with the third act, Careless Love is an engrossing well-made drama that audiences should enjoy despite its subject matter.
Careless Love is in Australian cinemas from 17 May through Antidote Films