An underdog sports movie devoid of tension, The BBQ gets by on charms alone.
⭐ ⭐ ½
The BBQ will inevitably be compared to The Castle – as all Australian comedies must be – but that contrast seems inappropriate for a few reasons. Chief among them is the fact that where The Castle put a family’s home on the line, The BBQ only endangers a few reputations – and it doesn’t even seem to care about them very much. Ironically, the biggest problem with The BBQ is that the stakes aren’t high enough.
The main reputation on the line is Darren “Dazza” Cook’s (Shane Jacobson). A barbecue addict, Dazza loves telling people he’s related to Captain Cook – the supposed creator of the barbecue – and hosting community get-togethers, much to his wife’s chagrin. After Dazza gains national attention for giving the community food poisoning, Dazza’s work enters him into a cooking competition – a bizarre decision that the film barely bothers to justify. Weirder still, the company simultaneously recognises that Dazza doesn’t actually have the skills to win the competition, so they send him off to be trained by The Butcher (Magda Szubanski), a Scottish woman with a grudge against the front-runner, Andre Mont Blanc (Manu Feildel).
There’s a Karate Kid formula at work here, delivered with delightful colour. Szubanski is particularly memorable, bringing a gruffness to her Miyagi that contrasts brilliantly with Jacobson’s overwhelmed Daniel. The mid-point of their training schedule – where an actual Japanese master (Kuni Hashimoto) teaches Dazza to identify wagyu beef – is easily the high point of the film. At its best, The BBQ is proof that clichés don’t matter if you execute them with skill – tell a story well, and you’ll have your audience enthralled regardless of how many tropes you’re using.
It’s a damn shame then that outside of that formula, The BBQ doesn’t tell its story well, despite having an astonishing five credited writers. Even with all of those people editing the script, it somehow fails to produce any real stakes. The few it has are paper thin and poorly thought out. Dazza’s main incentive to win is two-fold: he wants to prove to his wife that he’s good at what he does, and he wants to humiliate his rival, Mont Blanc. Except Dazza’s wife doesn’t care how good he is, she’s angry that the barbecue takes time away from the family. And Mont Blanc is a foreigner who is doing the competition for publicity, which he gets either way.
What might’ve worked better is if Dazza’s style was built around honest, community barbecuing, something the marketing suggests, but not the film itself. That simple change would contrast him to the pretentious foreigner and put the value of community on the line. Instead, Dazza’s training focuses on high-end cooking that clashes with his suburban setting. Dazza loves feeding people, but you can’t feed a community with wagyu beef, and that disconnect is something the film never addresses. That kind of thinking is the difference between a great film and an average film. For all its wonderful colour and humour, The BBQ is the latter, and that’s a damn shame.
The BBQ is available in Australian cinemas from February 22
Image courtesy of Label Distribution