on April 11, 1997 by Christine James
It understandably takes a while to enter the spirit of this Australian comedy about a production of Mozart's "Cosi fan tutte" put on by the patients of an insane asylum. To the filmmakers' credit, rather than take the easy way out by making the inmates simply endearingly wacky, they allow the audience to recognize that these people have serious problems that aren't at all funny. But this dose of reality does make it difficult to laugh at the proceedings; conversely, the somber side is never lingered on long enough to produce significant pathos. Nevertheless, as the opera's seemingly impossible production begins to take form, the movie audience is eventually able to warm to these characters, who flourish after being given an outlet for their previously untapped enthusiasm and creativity.
   The perennially out-of-work and wannabe-director Lewis ("The Efficiency Expert's" Ben Mendelsohn) thinks he's gotten a break when he's given charge of this motley Mozart. But, of course, he gets more than he's bargained for when he finds that his cast is comprised of a frenetically bossy and overzealous operetta-lover; a vain, grating, obnoxious crone who makes unwelcome overtures; a withdrawn, broken-hearted woman with suicidal tendencies; an introverted heroine junkie; and an antagonistic pyromaniac. Lewis also has to deal with his girlfriend Lucy ("Jude's" Rachel Griffiths), who is none too pleased with the amount of time he's putting into his work; he also fears that his best friend ("Hotel de Love's" Aden Young) might be comforting Lucy a little too much. Lewis soon sees that the production he is putting on, which is about testing women's fidelity, might be paralleling his own life. On top of this, Lewis must fight the romantic feelings he has toward Julie ("Muriel's Wedding's" Toni Collette), a recovering addict and only true talent in his troupe; she has the proverbial voice of an angel and her quirky, warm personality is an enticing change from no-nonsense Lucy.
   Performance s all around are good, but the construct isn't really light enough for comedy, nor dark enough for black humor, leaving one a little ambivalent. Starring Ben Mendelsohn, Barry Otto, Toni Collette, Rachel Griffiths and Aden Young. Directed by Mark Joffe. Written by Louis Nowra. Produced by Richard Brennan and Timothy White. A Miramax release. Comedy. Rated R for language. Running time: 101 min
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