Film Review: ‘Swinging Safari’

'Priscilla' director Stephan Elliott lets it all hang out in a cheerfully over-the-top slice of Aussie suburban life in the mid-1970s.

Stephan Elliott
Guy Pearce, Kylie Minogue, Radha Mitchell, Julian McMahon, Asher Keddie, Jeremy Sims, Atticus Robb, Darcey Wilson
Release Date:
Jan 18, 2018

1 hour 37 minutes

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5473090/

A cheerfully vulgar, consistently amusing and sometimes hilarious parody of life in a suburban Aussie cul-de-sac in the mid-1970s, “Swinging Safari” might just as easily have been titled “The Ice Storm Goes Berserk Down Under.” This partly autobiographical tale by writer-director Stephan Elliott (“The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert”) misfires occasionally but rattles along so quickly audiences never have to wait too long before the next laugh-out-loud moment. With a terrific cast that includes Guy Pearce and Kylie Minogue giving it everything they’ve got, and lovely performances by Atticus Robb and Darcey Wilson as sensitive teenagers observing their parents’ irresponsible behavior, “Safari” should please plenty of viewers and appeal particularly to those in the Baby Boomer and Gen-X demographics when released locally on Jan. 18. International niche exposure is not out of the question.

As he did so winningly in “Priscilla” and 1997’s unfairly overlooked outback comedy “Welcome to Woop Woop,” Elliott celebrates Australian identity with genuine love while simultaneously roasting it over the coals of no-holds-barred satire and parody. Embedded within its caricatures and gaudy visuals is an accurate picture of the moods and mores of ’70s middle-class Australia, where a combination of high living standards, plenty of leisure time and a sense of liberation brought on by a socially progressive government inspired many suburbanites to indulge in behavior that seems positively bacchanalian by today’s standards. There’s deliberately no deep-and-meaningful sociology here but the framework is firm.

The film gets off to a zippy start with an adult narrator (Richard Roxburgh) recalling his teenage years in the coastal suburb of Wallaroo, as 14-year-old budding filmmaker Jeff Marsh (Robb), who enlists local kids to perform hilariously dangerous stunts in front of his ever-present Super-8 camera.

Jeff’s father Bob (Jeremy Sims, sporting world-class mutton chops) sells gadgets for the K-Tel company, while his mother Gale (adored local favorite Asher Keddie) “shops, plays tennis and chats a lot.” Across the road live Keith Hall (Pearce), a Funk & Wagnell’s encyclopedia salesman, and Kaye (Minogue), an alcoholic shut-in. The neighborhood’s alpha couple is Rick Jones (Julian McMahon), a peddler of trendy legal drugs and vitamins, and wife Jo (Radha Mitchell), a travel agent who affects the posh British accent that was so prevalent among socially ambitious Australians in bygone days.

After presenting rib-tickling snapshots of Aussie beach culture at the time (chain smoking, non-stop drinking, appalling sunburns, unsupervised children running amok), “Safari” gets to the swinging part of the title with gusto. A disastrous wife-swapping party triggers a war of words and comically violent payback. The coup de grace is a screamingly funny act of public urination that evokes memories of “Desperate Living”-era John Waters.

Balancing the antics of an agreeably grotesque gallery of adults is the sweet friendship of Jeff and Melissa (Wilson), the deep-thinking daughter of Rick and Jo. Both carry scars from being burned by flammable clothing (a reference to the film’s original title “Flammable Children”) and first connect when a 200-ton blue whale beaches itself on the local shore. Drawing a connection between the immovable beast’s tragic fate and their own desire to not get stuck in Wallaroo forever, the youngsters hatch a delightfully spontaneous plan to run away. This nicely written and very well performed story thread suffers only from its relative brevity in the overall scheme of things.

Reuniting with producer Al Clark and many other key “Priscilla” collaborators, Elliott elevates his rowdy and raucous tale with the help of Lizzy Gardiner’s magnificently garish period costumes, Colin Gibson’s supremely kitschy production design and a zingy score by Guy Gross. Art director Jodie Whetter and set decorator Justine Dunn must have had a ball trawling through thrift shops for items like Perkins Paste, a long-disappeared brand of non-toxic Australian adhesive that was famous for being eaten by schoolchildren. In one of countless small moments that older Australian viewers will particularly cherish, a school kid duly downs a dollop of the stuff before Brad Shield’s spot-on widescreen camera captures another delightfully over-the-top, color-saturated moment.

Popular on Variety

Film Review: ‘Swinging Safari’

Reviewed at Hoyts Entertainment Quarter Cinemas, Sydney, Dec. 12, 2017. Running time: 97 MIN.

Production: (Australia) A Becker Film Group release of a Screen Australia, Piccadilly Pictures presentation of a Wildheart Films, See Pictures production, in association with Son Capital, Screen Queensland, Screen NSW, Cutting Edge. (International sales: WestEnd Films, London.) Producers: Al Clark, Jamie Hilton. Executive producers: Robert Whitehouse, Christopher Figg, Lisa Lambert. Co-producer: Ester Harding.

Crew: Director, writer: Stephan Elliott. Camera (color, widescreen): Brad Shield. Editors: Sue Blainey, Laurie Hughes, Annette Davey. Music: Guy Gross.

With: Guy Pearce, Kylie Minogue, Radha Mitchell, Julian McMahon, Asher Keddie, Jeremy Sims, Atticus Robb, Darcey Wilson

Jack Thompson, Chelsea Glaw, Jesse Denyer, Jacob Elordi, Stephan Elliott, Al Clark.

More Film

  • Nicolas Cage Hainan International Film Festival

    China's Hainan Film Festival Launches Golden Coconut Competition

    The deep-pocketed, government-run Hainan Island International Film Festival has launched a new competition section for its second iteration, set to take place from December 1-8. This year, ten ‘Golden Coconut Awards’ will be given out across three categories of films: feature-length, feature documentaries, and fictional shorts. Prizes will be presented for best picture, best director, [...]

  • Panda

    France's Troisième Œil Teams With China's CICC on Richard Dale's 'Panda Kingdom' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Troisième Œil Productions is teaming with Chinese partners to make its first international co-production with the premium documentary “Panda Kingdom,” and has brought BAFTA-winning director Richard Dale on board to helm it. The outfits China Aviation Pictures and CICC are co-producing the documentary with Troisième Œil Productions. The docu feature will explore the captive breeding [...]

  • Andhadhun receives AACTA nomination

    Indian and Chinese Titles Dominate AACTA Asian Award Nominations

    Three Indian and three mainland Chinese films are among the nine feature movies shortlisted for the Best Asian Film Award by the Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts. The Indian selections are box office hit “Andhadhun,” “Super Deluxe, and “Gully Boy,” which premiered in February at the Berlin festival. The Chinese trio includes “Shadow,” [...]

  • Fernando Meirelles The Two Popes

    Film News Roundup: 'The Two Popes' Wins Audience Award at Miami Festival

    In today’s film news roundup, “The Two Popes” wins an audience award, “A Night with Janis Joplin” and “Fittest in Dubai” get releases, Artists First reorganizes, SAG-AFTRA expands its headquarters and Film Fest 919 announces its winners. AUDIENCE AWARD Fernando Meirelles’ “The Two Popes” has won the audience award at the Miami Gems Film Festival. [...]

  • Scotty Bowers

    Scotty Bowers, Old Hollywood's Sexual Matchmaker, Dies at 96

    Scotty Bowers, a “sexual matchmaker” for dozens of stars during the Golden Age of Hollywood who wrote about his colorful — and sometimes unbelivable — life in his memoir “Full Service: My Adventures in Hollywood and the Secret Sex Lives of the Stars,” died at his Laurel Canyon home on Sunday. He was 96. The [...]

  • AMC theater

    AMC Entertainment Introducing On-Demand Movie Service

    AMC Entertainment will introduce an online video store in the United States on Tuesday. Adam Aron, AMC’s president and chief executive, said that the AMC Theaters On Demand will offer about 2,000 films for sale or rent after their theatrical runs — much like Amazon or iTunes. Disney, Warner Bros., Universal, Sony and Paramount have [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content