Though really no advance on her promising first feature, “Love and Other Catastrophes,” which was a modest hit in Australia, “Strange Planet,” Emma-Kate Croghan’s sophomore film, is an immensely likable romantic comedy. The generally witty screenplay and delicious performances should give this youthful romantic comedy the boost it needs to take off Down Under. Overseas commercial possibilities are more problematic, though ancillary markets beckon.
Pic unfolds in Sydney over a 12-month period, beginning and ending on New Year’s Eve. Early sequences establish the six main characters, three attractive young women who share a house, and three not-quite-so-attractive young men, who are best buddies. The girls have never met the guys, but there are no prizes for guessing they’ll be suitably partnered before fadeout.
Judy (Claudia Karvan) is fed up with having affairs with married men and men experiencing mid-life crises. More worldly than the sweetly naive and old-fashioned Alice (Naomi Watts) and the somewhat ditzy Sally (Alice Garner), Judy has just ended an affair with Robert (Marshall Napier), a man old enough to be her father. On this New Year’s Eve she shops for condoms in the supermarket before going out to party, convinced that there’s nothing worse than being without sex on New Year’s Day. Alice would settle for having a boyfriend; Sally just wants to have fun.
Meanwhile, in another part of town, shy law graduate Neil (Felix Williamson) and his friends, sexually confident Ewan (Tom Long) and married Joel (Aaron Jeffrey), are also trying to enjoy life. But Joel’s marriage to his childhood sweetheart is breaking up, Neil is hopelessly maladroit at approaching the women he yearns for, and Ewan soon finds that a one-night stand has resulted in an unwanted pregnancy.
Croghan intercuts among these characters as the months go by. Judy, eager to get a job in television, starts an affair with a married TV exec (Hugo Weaving); Neil, a Woody Allen type, decides he might get a girl if he can make one laugh, but he proves hopeless at telling jokes. And so it goes, with the film constructed around brief, mostly comic scenes involving one of the six principals, until they all wind up together at the next New Year’s Eve. It’s a familiar basis for a romantic comedy, but it works thanks to a good script and near-flawless performances.
Standouts are Williamson (son of stage and screen writer David Williamson) as the nerdy Neil and Watts as the sweet yet tenacious Alice. Karvan expertly plays the most sophisticated of the women, while Garner tends to get lost in the shuffle. Weaving brings practiced charm to the role of the philandering TV exec.
Pic is brightly packaged. Opening credits depict scenes from the pic, some of which don’t actually appear.