Life is a housing auction, or at least a prolonged bargaining effort, in “A Month of Sundays,” a contrived coping drama from Australian TV and film director Matthew Saville (“Noise”, “Felony”) in which a sad-sack housing broker learns to appreciate life from an older woman who reminds him of his mother. Delicate performances by Anthony LaPaglia and Julia Blake go a long way toward making the trite plotting seem sophisticated from moment to moment, but commercial prospects are as mild as the movie itself.
South Australia real-estate agent Frank Mollard (LaPaglia) is a bit off his game. Although he’s buddy-buddy with his boss, Phillip (John Clarke), he gets flustered when dealing with clients and perhaps feels a pang of self-loathing at the task of selling properties owned by the recently or soon-to-be deceased. He’s also still getting over a divorce from Wendy (Justine Clarke), an actress who grew apart from him after achieving sudden fame on a medical TV drama.
Then Frank gets a phone call from Sarah (Blake, maybe best known Stateside for Paul Cox’s “Innocence”), who says she’s his mother — an improbability, since Frank’s mother died the previous year. It’s a wrong number, of course, but Sarah sounds a lot like the dead woman, and for a brief moment, each one is persuaded that the call is genuine. Frank finds the conversation so comforting that he wishes to get to know Sarah better. Soon, he’s popping in on the former library worker for tea and for lunch, much to the irritation of her son, Damien (Donal Forde), the man she had originally meant to call.
Frank makes a living from appraising others’ lives — he sometimes assesses houses in v.o. — yet seems to lack a compass on his own. He takes Sarah to visit the sites of two homes she one lived in (and soon guesses why she wants to go). The way the two leads play off one another often elevates the material: As played by the gruff LaPaglia, Frank masks his insecurities with a salesman’s quickness, while Blake approaches even a small moment of recognizing an old set of curtains as if it were Shakespeare. Yet “A Month of Sundays” is so tidily plotted, so committed to its improve-thyself epiphanies, that it never transcends its own artifice. No thread goes unresolved. Frank bonds with his son (Indiana Crowther) after being moved by the teenager’s delivery of “King Lear.” He finds the capacity to do right by those he has wronged.
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The depressive horns of Bryony Marks’ score only augment the bathetic Hallmark feel, and while the movie (shot in the greater Adelaide area) is generally a handsome film, it is prone to the occasional distracting gimmick. Frank’s routine visit to his wife’s set seems an odd time for Saville to pay homage to the Copacabana Steadicam shot from “Goodfellas.”