Thursday, November 30, 2023

Christmess - A Heath Davis Film


Christmess – a Heath Davis film. Genre: Comedy, Drama, Musical.  
Production Company: Albert Street Films Pty. Ltd. Produced by Brick Studios.
In cinemas around the country from November 30, 2023.

Reviewed by Frank McKone

Director: Heath Davis; Writer: Heath Davis
Producer: Heath Davis  Daniel Fenech  Cindy Pritchard  Matthew McCracken
Executive Producers: Julia Scales  Nick Cole

Steve Le Marquand (Chris); Nicole Pastor (Noelle)
Darren Gilshenan (Nick); Hannah Joy, of ARIA winners Middle Kids, (Joy)

Christmess tells the story of a washed up actor, Chris Flint, who takes a job as a suburban strip mall Santa Claus where he encounters his long estranged daughter, Noelle. With the support of his caring sponsor, Nick, and a young, sharp tongued, musician in recovery named Joy, Chris sets about staying sober in order to win his daughter's forgiveness for Christmas.” (Blue Mountains Gazette, November 21 2023)

Beyond the standard idea of ‘genre’, Christmess is funny in its own truly Australian way, with a wry sense of humour.  It is much more than simple comedy.  Hannah Joy’s music creates her character ‘Joy’ in a highly original way.  The drama is in the story of how these people come to understand themselves and work out how to deal with life better through their unlikely Christmas experience.

Or perhaps, as Heath Davis explained in a Q&A, it’s not so unlikely when our culture expects extended families and long-lost friends to ‘celebrate’ Christmas no matter what.

Set in Sydney’s western suburbs, everything seems very ordinary.  This is what makes it warm and naturalistic, with none of the sentimentality or over-the-top drama that you might expect from a conventional (ie Hollywood) Christmas movie.

Interestingly, at the launch of Christmess at the Austin Film Festival, Texas, Heath Davis reports, he was surprised at how Americans were entranced by the humour.  A good thing for the new wave of Australian film-making, I think.

A fascinating aspect of the film is that a stage actor plays an actor, another stage actor plays this actor’s sponsor to help him out of rehab, while a successful musician plays an up-and-coming struggling musician.  One of the best scenes – from the point of view of a theatre reviewer like me – is when the three, on Joy’s suggestion (or did Heath say it was Hannah’s idea when improvising during the shoot?) – rehearse Chris’s attempt to meet his daughter in a role play.  Darren plays Nick playing Noelle; Steve plays Chris playing Chris; Hannah plays Joy sort-of playing Nick advising on the success of the role playing and the likely success when Chris puts it into practice.

Does he succeed? That’s for you to watch, while you think about the names Chris, Noelle, Nick and Joy, and enjoy a sometimes sad Yuletide story with a strong dose of good cheer.

I wouldn’t miss it if I were you.

A Christmess Day lunch