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Downer Under

Here's more good news for independent filmmakers living on macaroni and cheese in studio apartments everywhere. The 25-year-old Australian director Emma-Kate Croghan shot Love and Other Catastrophes in seventeen days on a budget of $30,000, and Fox Searchlight Pictures picked it up.

Here's the bad news: Croghan didn't spring for ten bucks of screenplay or a nickel's worth of thought. The things that cost nothing--paper and pencils, perception and plot--got badly shorted.

It doesn't do to hold a rookie to major-league standards, but if this young filmmaker really wanted to punch up her tepid campus comedy about--heaven help us--the romantic traumas of five graduate students in Melbourne, she might have spent more than two weeks (her estimate) working on the blueprint (her word) from which the thing was made. As it is, Croghan's inexperienced and underpaid cast of twentysomethings are hard-pressed to improvise what she alleges to be a screwball comedy about the on-again, off-again lesbian love affair between Mia and Danni (Frances O'Connor and Radha Mitchell), the existential angst (yup, that old thing again) of a part-time gigolo called Ari (Matthew Dyktynski), the unsatisfied yearnings of Alice (Alice Garner) for a like-minded movie-lover who is also left-handed, and the social insecurities of a timid medical student named Michael (Matt Day).

Not to worry, though: Omnia vincit amor. That's what these kids actually say: Omnia vincit amor.

Meanwhile, Croghan says her art-on-a-shoestring project was inspired by such American-indie successes as Clerks and El Mariachi, a couple of brave, nine-dollar efforts that look like Citizen Kane by comparison. Love and Other Catastrophes is not immature in the oh-well-she's-still-growing sense; it's immature in the she-ain't-ever-gonna-be-toilet-trained sense. If you add solemn self-absorption to post-adolescent melancholia and have the nerve to call the thing a "comedy," you are nothing if not deluded. This director's idea of humor, still stinking of the classroom, is to have the terminally dull and interminably whiny Alice write a thesis titled "Doris Day: Feminist Warrior." As for what might be called recent-graduate revenge, the filmmaker knocks off a despised professor character in mid-movie. You can bet he knows who he is.

While the bargain hunters at the major American companies continue to haunt Sundance (and, apparently, Melbourne) in search of the mother lode--which is to say, the next Crying Game--they'll probably keep laying more Catastrophes on the public than we really care to watch. Oh, well. As students Down Under like to say: Ars gratia artis.

--Gallo

Love and Other Catastrophes.
Screenplay by Yael Bergman, Emma-Kate Croghan and Helen Bandis. Directed by Emma-Kate Croghan. With Frances O'Connor, Alice Garner, Matthew Dyktynski, Matt Day and Radha Mitchell.

 
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