Singer-songwriter Ben Lee is the title character in "The Rage in Placid Lake", a precocious oddball who, in a misguided attempt to fit in and make his life easier, decides to go straight. Taking satiric aim at a familiar target, conformity, Australian playwright Tony McNamara's film debut is by turns incisive and broad. Polished and dark but upbeat, the less-than-satisfying comedy from Showtime Australia had its North American premiere as a competition title at the AFI Fest.
Placid is raised in upper-middle-class suburbia by impossibly self-absorbed New Age parents (Miranda Richardson and Garry McDonald) who are blind to the beatings he endures for being different. A high school graduation-night confrontation with his usual tormentors leaves Placid in traction, every bone in his body broken. Once recovered, he embarks on a new way of life, cutting his hair, donning suit and tie and promptly getting himself hired at Icarus Insurance, much to the horror of his free-spirit folks. Increasingly troubled by his new direction is lifelong friend Gemma (Rose Byrne
), a science whiz who's as smart as Placid but has always played by the rules.
Loosely based on one of McNamara's stage works, the film has a striking widescreen look on a budget, its stylized interiors especially effective in the blank surfaces of the Icarus offices. The workplace goings-on are an absurdist version of "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying." Under the wing of his unhappy boss (Christopher Stollery
), Placid rises to the Fast Track program, where ambitious Jane (Saskia Smit
) believes in supply-room quickies to relieve tension. Claire Danes
cameos as an admiring colleague.
McNamara doesn't seem quite sure about where he's going once he's made his points, so he makes them repeatedly, especially regarding the horridly wishy-washy Lakes, thankless characters that are nonetheless well played by Richardson and McDonald. In his film debut, Lee is a believably charming cad. But despite his and Byrne's likable performances, their characters' latent romance never quite matters in the way it's intended.