Imagine a beautiful, simple world filled with 1950’s Hollywood glamour and natural Australian charm… well, that’s exactly the experience you’ll get from Bruce Beresford’s latest entry.
⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Adapted from the novel by Madeleine St John, the titular ladies in black run the women’s clothing section at a high-end department store. From the young and naïve, yet sharply intelligent Lisa (Angourie Rice) who anxiously awaits her exam results, to the hopelessly romantic Fay (Rachael Taylor) who can’t catch a break in her dating life, each woman faces her own set of hurdles. While all so different – none more so than Slovenian socialite and style aficionado Magda (Julia Ormond) – they each make an impact on one another and form unexpected bonds.
Set in the late 50’s in Sydney, Ladies In Black is a reminder of a time when people were more appreciative of what they had. Even when what they had was so little. With no mobile phones or modern world pressures intruding upon them, the characters in Ladies In Black are free to fully enjoy their city, food, wine and each other at a leisurely pace.
In this sense, Bruce Beresford’s film is a breath of fresh air. But its simple ways can be a bit of a double-edged sword. Although each core character has some form of dilemma to tackle, there’s no real stakes at play. All the conflict is fairly superficial, and when darker themes do start to emerge, they’re mostly glossed over and forgotten.
Perhaps that’s OK, though. Maybe we need to have more films that don’t get bogged down in the real drudgeries of life. Especially Australian films. Until the last couple of years, many of our films tended to fall into 1 of 2 categories – outstanding gritty dramas that only a handful of people would go to see, or average comedies and B-grade fluff pieces. Recent times have certainly shown a shift, with talented filmmakers producing high quality, thought-provoking stuff that’s appealing to broader audiences. It may not be ground-breaking, but Ladies In Black is definitely a solid addition to our stream of newer films.
Its cast is essentially a ‘who’s hot right now’ showcase of Australian performers of all levels. There’s the legendary Noni Hazlehurst as the leader of the ladies in black, young up-and-comer Angourie Rice (Jasper Jones, The Nice Guys) and late bloomer Rachael Taylor (Jessica Jones), who’s only now starting to land decent roles roughly a decade into her career. After starring alongside his real life brother in Brother’s Nest earlier this year, here Shane Jacobson features as Lisa’s simple-minded father, and Ryan Corr, who’s managed to get himself into every Australian film from Ali’s Wedding to Holding The Man, here presents as a key love interest.
Corr steals the show from the moment he struts in sprouting an oddly spot-on Hungarian accent. He’s the source of a lot of comedy and fits the role of a charming and cultured European immigrant like a glove. Julia Ormond, one of the very few non-Australian cast members, follows closely behind him as the posh and judgemental, yet well-meaning Magda, and she is truly a joy to watch.
Ladies In Black is like a fizzy glass of lemonade on a warm summer’s day – it’s sweet and refreshing, easy to enjoy and free of any bitter aftertaste. If that’s the type of movie you’re in the mood for, then you can’t do much better than this one.
Ladies In Black is available in Australian cinemas from September 20
Image courtesy of Sony Pictures