Until today, if you had asked me what I thought the most Oscar-baity, the most blatant awards-grabbing film I’d ever seen, The English Patient would have been my answer… and I would’ve been right, if we were talking about U.S. films. But now, I’ve had to seriously reassess what makes a great film great, without making it nothing but a desperate soul grabbing and snatching at every award it can find, in the face of Australia’s My Brilliant Career. Directed by Gillian Armstrong, in what would be the first Australian film directed by a woman in roughly a generation, this film ended up taking home several awards from the Australian Film Institute, which as far as I can assume is the Australian equivalent to the Oscars. And damn well it should have, since this film did everything it possibly could to be appealing from a critical standpoint.
Judy Davis plays Sybylla Melvyn, who has more Ys in her name than should be legally allowable. Sybylylya is a young girl of a generally well-to-do family who is sent off to live with her grandmother, an aristocrat of the highest order, to be brought up out of her “spirited” way of thinking and into a more acceptable stature, to where she can be married off and live a socially presentable life. Of course, Syyybyly Myylvylyyn won’t have any of that, and she resolves to remain steadfast and true to herself, which is all well and good, if the “herself” she was being true to weren’t generally insufferable and exceedingly selfish. Not once in this film does she do anything against her wishes; everything has to be her way, or everybody else can go jump in a river; excuse the harsh vernacular. The film even starts with her writing a novel about her life, assuming that her life is just so splendid that others will scramble to read it, and with her amending the end of the paragraph where she calls her life “my career” with “my BRILLIANT career”, which then leads into the quote I used above. I’ll give her that she fully admits to being egotistical and offers no apology for it, but that still does not excuse her from being egotistical to begin with. Add to the fact that her so-called career is anything but “brilliant”, and Yysyvvybyyllyny just comes across as stupidly arrogant. The plot aside, this comes across as some sort of bastardized combination of The Piano and A Room with a View, with a little bit of English Patient added in to sweeten the awards pot that much more. If that does not in any way sound like an appealing mixture, trust me, it isn’t. Seriously, this ticks off more boxes than any other film I think I have ever, ever seen. Let’s go down the list: Period piece? Check. Middle-to-upper class, affluent surroundings? Check. Production value out the wazoo? Check. Matching costume design and art direction? Check. A sappy and melancholy piano score? Check. Inexplicable British accents? Check. Want me to go on? No? Well, too bad; I’m going to: Romantic angle as the lead plot device? Check. An independent, headstrong-to-a-fault protagonist, who for good measure is of the lesser represented lead-character genders? Check. A sense of deserved entitlement, for both the characters and the film itself? Check. A plot and narrative that is as basic and predictable as the term “safe” will allow? Check. I think that’s all I’ve got. I do want to additionally stress that last part, though; as the film went on, I literally predicted everything that would happen, right before it happened, right down to the incidental actions of the characters. That, right there, does not a good story make in my eyes.
Think of it this way: I was forced to sit through this film, so I forced you to endure that list of everything that makes the film the most despicably obvious awards grab in all of Australian cinema, and maybe all of cinema indeed. Which would you rather have had to do? I’ll even give you a hint; since you’ve read this far and have thus gotten past my little diatribe, you’ve already completed the one that is far more entertaining. To some, this may be an excellent cinematic exhibition of the highest order, but in all honesty, I could feel my upper lip growing ever stiffer just writing that. Admittedly, there is some that the film does get right, but whatever it was was just so overdone or overshadowed by everything else about the film that was so overdone that awards seemed to be sucked towards the film, caught in the gravitational pull of a supermassive cinematic black hole. And it was everything I could do, in my best interest and self-preservation, to resist getting pulled across that particular event horizon. You may have a different opinion, but this was to such a level that it was almost physically disgusting to me.
Arbitrary Rating: 5/10