(2001, Ray Lawrence)
“Most men hold something back”
According to Wikipedia, lantana is a type of Australian weed, very pretty to look at but very poisonous at the same time. So clearly this is a movie about gardening, right?
No, just like Traffic, that title is misleading and the movie’s actual intention is somewhat less clear. It’s essentially a two hour soap opera, with lots of entangled relationships, most people cheating on each other, everyone is miserable, and then someone goes missing and it’s the mystery of her disappearance that needs to be solved.
The plot, then. Leon (Anthony LaPaglia), a police officer, is having an affair with Jane (Rachel Blake), a woman he met at salsa dancing classes he attends with his wife Sonja (Kerry Armstrong). Sonja is attending therapy sessions to deal with the fact that she feels her marriage is falling apart. Valerie (Barbara Hershey), her therapist, has troubles of her own. Following the death of their daughter, she and her husband John (Geoffrey Rush) are barely on speaking terms, and when a gay man comes into her therapy sessions confessing that he’s sleeping with a married man, she begins to feel suspicious about John.
And I wasn’t kidding about the soap opera comparison, by the way. The entire movie is about fractured relationships, and it seems that the best way to convey this was to have everyone be utterly miserable all the damn time. That’s right, for 115 mind-numbing minutes, we get to watch all these characters mope around and avoid talking to each other like sensible human beings.
I like exactly two characters in the whole movie, and they weren’t mentioned in the above summary. Paula and Nik (Daniella Farinacci and Vince Colosimo), Jane’s happily-married next door neighbours, were the only likeable characters in the whole movie since they were the only ones that actually smiled at any point. Even when the misery bleeds over to them due to their association with the rest of the cast, they actually try and support each other and not just slip into moody self-absorbed bubbles.
It’s fine for a movie to be bleak, but if this is the intention, then at least make the characters relatable. Make characters that you actually care about if things go wrong for them. Let’s look at a movie I always reference for “How To Make A Good Bleak Movie”, Requiem For A Dream. The characters weren’t perfect people at all, but at least you could feel their enthusiasm in trying to achieve their dreams, even if their methods were questionable. At least Harry tried to reconcile things with his mother despite their differences (even if it didn’t work).
These characters? They’re pathetic. The slightest bit of trouble, they’re running into affairs or deciding to stop talking entirely. When Geoffrey Rush uttered the quote I’ve used at the top of the review, I cringed. His reason for not talking to his wife about their grief is that he’s a man and therefore can’t show emotion? Bollocks.
The truth of the matter is that everybody in this movie is a horrible person who only suffers this misery because they make no effort to improve their lot in life (including, ironically, the therapist). And then someone ends up dead. Well, I stopped caring long before that happened.
There was also so little tension in this movie that I was just flat out bored by it most of the time. A lack of caring for the characters made me feel generally indifferent to anything that happened.
It’s hard to recommend Lantana at all. It’s a tale of suburban misery that only exists because the characters seem to enjoy existing in their bubble of suburban misery. The only way you could have made me enjoy this movie is if Geoffrey Rush switched his entire role for his role in Pirates Of The Caribbean. Suburban misery with an over the top pirate? Yes please! As it is? No thanks.
Starring Anthony LaPaglia, Geoffrey Rush, Barbara Hershey, Kerry Armstrong, Rachel Blake, Vince Colosino, Russel Dykstra, Daneila Farinacci, Peter Phelps, Lea Purcel & Glen Robbins
Written by Andrew Bovell
Produced by Jan Chapman
Music by Paul Kelly
Cinematography by Mandy Walker
Edited by Karl Sodersten
Favourite Scene: The testimony that reveals the neighbour’s involvement was intriguing and interesting, and the one bit of the movie that I was actually concerned about what was going on
Scene That Bugged Me: Leon bumps into a man in the street and EXPLODES at him for no god damn reason, which causes the man to weep uncontrollably. WHO ACTS LIKE THIS?!
Watch it if: You like soap operas
Avoid it if: You don’t fancy wasting two hours of your life