The Rage in Placid Lake

Don't let the title fool you. This is not a sequel to "Lake Placid" or any kind of horror film. Instead, it's a whimsical, satirical comedy about an oddball teenager. Pic melds an insightful observational style with some rather clunky satire and the resulting mix is uneven at best.

With:
Placid Lake - Ben Lee Gemma Taylor - Rose Byrne Sylvia Lake - Miranda Richardson Doug Lake - Garry McDonald Joel - Christopher Stollery Bill Taylor - Nicholas Hammond Anton - Francis McMahon Jane - Saskia Smith Bull - Toby Schmitz Lachie - Nathaniel Dean Angus - Stephen James King Bozo - Socratis Otto Young Placid - Jordan Brooking Young Gemma - Eleeza Hooker Girl at Seminar - Claire Danes

Don’t let the title fool you. This is not a sequel to “Lake Placid” or any kind of horror film. Instead, it’s a whimsical, satirical comedy marking the directorial debut of playwright Tony McNamara who based his screenplay on his 1999 legit production, “The Cafe Latte Kid.” Yarn about an oddball teenager, pic melds an insightful observational style with some rather clunky satire and the resulting mix is uneven at best. Some good performances and interest in singer-turned actor Ben Lee, in his first screen role, could propel offbeat project to tasty opening figures in Oz, with offshore prospects possible only if pic gets fest bookings and accompanying positive notices.

Lee fronted rock band Noise Addict at the age of 14 and recorded his solo debut, “Grandpaw Would,” when he was 16. He next traveled to the U.S., where he worked with Harmony Korine and Petra Haden on the 1999 “Breathing Tornados” album, and dated Claire Danes, who appears in a credited cameo role in “Placid Lake.” Although his screen presence lacks strength, Lee radiates wide-eyed optimism and fresh-faced innocence, which suit the character he plays.

Placid’s parents Doug (Garry McDonald) and Sylvia (Miranda Richardson) are aging flower children, deeply involved in New Age activities. When Placid (played as a child by Jordan Brooking) was in elementary school, his mother sometimes sent him to class dressed as a girl so he would experience sexuality from a different point of view. This kind of eccentricity resulted in Placid being subjected to a great deal of bullying, though Placid was fortunate enough to find a soul-mate in Gemma (Eleeza Hooker), a serious, bespectacled girl his age. Gemma’s mother died when she was 8, and her possessive father (Nicholas Hammond) wants her to be a scientist.

The years go by (helped by the apt use of voice-over narration) and Placid grows into a troubled teenager. He wins a school competition for his film “Life Is Super Dooper,” but at the first public screening of the video he substitutes a darker, more explicit tape in which he depicts his parents, school friends and teachers in the most unflattering circumstances (“Leni Riefenstahl would have been proud!”). The audience is horrified.

This scandal marks a turning-point in Placid’s life: Pursued by the three bullies who have menaced and beaten him for years, Placid runs onto the school roof and then falls from it, breaking every bone in his body.

When he recovers, Placid has changed. He now is determined to carve a successful career for himself. He undergoes a makeover — emulating the hairstyle of George W. Bush among other affectations — and applies for a job with an insurance company. He’s hired and fast-tracked for success. His parents, however, are horrified at his new conservatism, which they see as youthful rebellion (“Are you trying to hurt us?”).

Placid also wants to change his relationship with Gemma (Rose Byrne) from platonic friendship to something more. However, urged on by her father, Gemma has turned her bedroom into a science lab, and, much to Placid’s disappointment, she isn’t ready to surrender her virginity.

As a consequence, Placid begins spending time with a work colleague, the ice-queen Jane (Saskia Smith) who is always eager for a quickie in the stationery room and with no emotional connections.

As an examination of the woes of a troubled teen, “The Rage in Placid Lake” is only intermittently engaging. It doesn’t reach the level of recent Yank additions to the genre, like “Donnie Darko” or “Igby Goes Down.” Apart from the rather predictable attempts at satire and a determination to be original and quirky at all costs, the film has a fairly shallow arc.

Basically it’s a love story, and a very romantic one at that. Although Lee’s lack of acting experience shows, he succeeds in coming off as a confused but basically likable youngster trying to find the right road in life. Byrne is a delight as the studious but very warm-hearted Gemma, bringing depth and subtlety to what could have been a very conventional role.

Richardson and McDonald are hilarious as the neo-hippy parents, with their casual talk about orgasms and their oddball approach to raising their son. Among the supporting roles, Christopher Stollery shines as Placid’s immediate boss at the insurance company, while Smith is a hoot as the self-obsessed, supremely selfish Jane.

Though Ellery Ryan’s widescreen camerawork is highly professional, a more experienced director might have given the film a richer visual look to complement the off-center narrative. Handsomely produced, pic is snappily edited by Lee Smith and attractively scored by Cezary Skubiszewski. Production and costume design contributions, by Roger Ford and Lisa Meagher respectively, add wit, especially in the scenes involving the home lives of the central characters.

The Rage in Placid Lake

Market / Australia

Production: A Palace Films (Australia) release of an Australian Film Finance Corp. presentation, in association with Showtime Australia and the NSW Film and TV Office of a Rapacious Production. (International sales: Moviehouse Entertainment, London.) Produced by Marian Macgowan. Co-producer, Louise Smith. Directed, written by Tony McNamara, based on his play, "The Cafe Latte Kid."

Crew: Camera (Atlab color, Panavision widescreen), Ellery Ryan; editor, Lee Smith; music, Cezary Skubiszewski; production designer, Roger Ford; art director, Elaine Kismishko; costume designer, Lisa Meagher; sound (Dolby Digital), John Willsteed, Andrew Belletty; stunt coordinator, Rocky McDonald; associate producer, Jane Smith; assistant director, John Martin; casting, Nikki Barrett. Reviewed at Greater Union screening room, Sydney, May 7, 2003. (In Cannes Film Festival -- market.) Running time: 89 MIN.

With: Placid Lake - Ben Lee Gemma Taylor - Rose Byrne Sylvia Lake - Miranda Richardson Doug Lake - Garry McDonald Joel - Christopher Stollery Bill Taylor - Nicholas Hammond Anton - Francis McMahon Jane - Saskia Smith Bull - Toby Schmitz Lachie - Nathaniel Dean Angus - Stephen James King Bozo - Socratis Otto Young Placid - Jordan Brooking Young Gemma - Eleeza Hooker Girl at Seminar - Claire Danes

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