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THE BIG STEAL

Australia, 1990 (MIFF 1990)

Director: Nadia Tass

WHAT BETTER WAY to close the festival than with a sneak preview of a new Melbourne-produced comedy? Nadia Tass and David Parker follow Malcolm and Rikhj and Pete with The Big Steal, a wickedly funny joy-ride through Melbourne suburbia which puts the Australian teen movie on the map, and then some.

Eighteen year old Danny Clark (Ben Mendelsohn) is very interested in Joanna Johnson (Claudia Carvan, last seen as a mere child in High Tide), but obsessed with Jaguar cars. In the same week, both these dreams come true, although not in quite the manner he would have wished.

When his parents give him a valuable present for his eighteenth birthday (their much-loved 1963 Nissan Cedric, no less!), Danny promptly trades it in for a 73 XJ6 Jag, thanks to a little help from a finance company and the persuasive-Gordon Farkas, shonky car dealer extraordinaire (played to the hilt by Steve Bisley). When the Jag bites the dust on Danny's first date with Joanna, and then Gordon refuses to honour the warranty, Danny calls on the ingenuity of his mates Mark and Van to help him out.

Just as in Malcolm, Parker's script displays a wonderful ear for the nuance of local vocabulary, whether it be that of a 17 year old girl or Danny's slightly batty English emigre parents. The world of Melbourne teenagers with its diverse ethnic mix and macho car-culture is beautifully captured ("Get yourself a real car", jeers Danny's friend Van(gelis), pointing to his gleaming Monaro). Nor does the film confine itself to the white-bread, rich kid world of the American teen-flick, as carved out by John Hughes (in Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Pretty In Pink, and others). Alongside the basic boy-meets-girl /boy-loses-girl (and-car)/boy-gets-girl (and-car) back scenario central to any self-respecting teen pic, (with its obligatory setting of high-school corridors, nightclubs and petrol pumps), Tass and Parker establish a completely complimentary (if more bizarre) adult realm, and never underestimate the ability of the teenage audience to appreciate adult references (or the reverse, for that matter!).

Crammed in between, is a never ending stream of sight gags and hilarious one liners; some unpredictable scenes (whoever heard of a slow speed car chase?); a swag of witty local references; and confident performances from the entire cast, although Bisley steals the show as the conniving Farkas with his blow-waved hair and white socks, in a bravura all-stops-out performance destined to set second-hand car dealers back another decade.

Ultimately, it's a celebration of Australian culture in all its daggy glory, and a great way to celebrate a festival laden with local product. - (TB)

See also...

STARK

You've read the book, now see the film. Pooling the talents of actor/writer Ben Elton (Young Ones, Blackadder) and director Nadia Tass (Malcolm, The Big Steal), this gloriously over-the-top ... More »

AMY

With Amy, Nadia Tass demonstrates the breadth of her talent as both director and producer. The quirky comic elements of her previous successes, including Malcolm and The Big Steal, are retained in ... More »

MATCHING JACK

Sometimes it takes a trauma to change things for the better. ... An inner-urban Melbourne family is turned upside down when their young son Jack is diagnosed with leukemia, and his father's years of ... More »

Wild Things

The suburb of St Kilda, in Melbourne, has bean described by Paul Taylor, Australian expat editor of Art and Text magazine, as the "cultural centre of Australia". ... Director's Note: "Wild Things is ... More »

The Closet High Flyer

A mischievous cat meets a trapeze artist in the most unusual place. ... More »

Newbury

A quiet look at colour. ... More »

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