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...


Following her smash-hit directorial debut Malcolm, Nadia Tass’ next big achievement was this early Ben Mendelsohn vehicle, an award-winning, iconically Melbourne teen caper also starring Claudia Karva... More »


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 i... More »


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 production... More »


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 Amy... More »

Let Me Rescue You Before Someone Else Does

A respectable public servant fantasizes himself as a hero, driven to save the soul of a woman from the claws of prostitution. At the suburban massage parlour however, it's business as usual. This is a... More »

The Tennis Ball

The film is about the lack of communication between two neighbours living in the inner city. A young woman is minding her own business in her terrace house, when a ball flies in the window from the ne... More »

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