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This is a very interesting film. It is taken from a
novel that won a prestigious prize. Can I admit that
I really enjoyed this film, while admitting that
nothing _really_ happens? There are no car chases,
or gun-fights. I don't even think I remember any
fist-fights. Nora and her daughter meet and interact
with interesting, intelligent, troubled people in
Australia in the seventies.
Nora is under-employed in the alternative music business. Her main squeeze (Colin Friels) is under-employed as a sometime actor in small theatre. She shares a number of households with other single parents. She tries to raise her kid, and still have some self-fulfilment.
Let me warn you, don't make the mistake of inviting people over to watch this film with you, without warning them to ignore the blurb on the video-box. The last time I rented this film I invited a bunch of people over to watch a double bill: the Merchant-Ivory film "Slaves of New York" and "Monkey Grip". Everyone enjoyed SONY. But everyone left without watching MG. After they left I took a look at the box. It made MG sound like a porno movie. It described Colin Friels character, the heroine's main squeeze, as "sexually volcanic" whatever that means. BS of course. And the blurb writer omits the much more interesting item that he is a junkie. Very embarrassing. In truth MG wasn't any more erotic than Slaves of New York.
I definitely recommend reading the book prior to watching the film. This book won National Book Council Award in 1978 and is a very gripping read (pun not intended). It's not too difficult to read for those out there that don't read often so don't be afraid! The book seems to capture the passion of the relationships more so than the movie and the movie will make more sense after reading the book. Having grown up in Melbourne I could really relate to this book and movie. Very few Australian female writers were around the in the 70's therefore very little is documented about the way of life for a women in an urban city in Australia during this era or class. It's a precious piece of Melbourne history. It's a shame that it is documented as some sort of 80's soft porn movie. It's far from that and as the other reviewer has mentioned please do not read the DVD jacket, it does not represent what the movie is about at all. Those that rent the movie based on this description will only be disappointed. Just remember this movie was made in 1982, so don't expect the Hollywood over dramatization that they seem to incorporate these days. This is what I like about it. It's also great seeing Noni Hazlehurst in this role, she is just fantastic as Nora and it's great watching her really acting, for if you're close to my age you will best remember her for her stints on Playschool and Better Homes and Gardens. Who knew she hid this talent? This movie will give you an entirely new impression of her. A classic Australian Story!
Seems that Monkey Grip was seen to be quite a contentious film back in
its day, its natural and often very revealing attitude to sex probably
drawing in the wrong crowd, or at least for the wrong reason and the
substantial junkie elements giving it an alienating edge.
Ken Cameron's 1981 film, that stars a very good and suitably natural Noni Hazlehurst and Colin Friels, is based on Helen Garner's semi- autobiographical novel and was highly praised by local critics, scooping an AFI (Aussie 'Oscar') best actress for Hazlehurst and nominations for cinematography, editing, supporting actress and Best Film.
Thirty odd years later and on another Continent, to a wider audience, how does it fare? The story isn't exactly a gripping one but a well-told one, that unfolds simply and for the most part remains interesting. Nora, a - early 30's ? - divorced mother of two pretty quickly falls for a ruggedly handsome bit actor, who is, unknown to her a heroin addict.
There follows a real, quite sensual sexual awakening for her but as his habit is quietly exposed (this is no Trainspotting!) she naturally finds this hard to take and as her dreams become ever more shattered, Javo's life becomes more chaotic and is arrested in Bangkok for theft.
Her personal quest to make it in the music business in her own right is an interesting sideline, but not the reason for watching the film. Those expecting sex, drugs and rock'n'roll actually do get all three, probably in that order but this is no typical rock lifestyle movie - it has depth, emotion and is essentially a decent drama that covers a number of people of varying interest and one that's decently involving.
As I said, it covers no new ground and should be targeted at those who want such and not an erotic junkie rock flick - those expecting the latter will be disappointed.
I watched the DVD as part of the 12 disc 'Australian Cinema Collection'.
Noni Hazlehurst, Colin Friels, Alice Garner, Chrissie Amphlett and
Michael Caton- what more could you ask for? Monkey Grip based on the
prize winning novel of the same name explores Nora (Hazlehurst, a
single mother falling for a heroin addict Jobe (Friels). A simple story
is made truly extraordinary through the all round magnificent acting
(in particular Noni Hazlehurst) and nice use of the small budget. The
only flaw is (if you can pick it up) is that the story is set in
Melbourne, although for budget reasons, the film was mainly shot in
Sydney, so as a result, in a few scenes you see trams (Melbourne
scenes) and then a Carlton post office (Sydney scenes). Other than
that, "Monkey Grip" is a must see (excuse the clique, but it is) at
least for an award winning performance from former "Play School" and
"Better Homes & Gardens" presenter Noni Hazlehurst.
I have not seen this movie, but I read somewhere that, much to everyone's surprise, Christina Amphlett (lead singer for the Divinyls who also recorded the soundtrack to the film) received a Best Supporting Actress nomination (Aussie Oscars?) for her performance in this film. It's unfortunate that she never acted in another film after that, and that this was her first and last showing. I would have been curious to see what she might have done with an acting career. Particularly since the Divinyls never really got their due respect. :( Anyway, this is definitely on my list to see (if I can find it!) PS - I first saw her perform musically at the US festival in 1983, their debut tour. Amazing!
Noni Hazlehurst's tour-de-force performance (which won her an AFI award) is at least on par with her effort in FRAN three years later. Colin Friels is also good, and, for those who are interested, Alice Garner appears as Noni's child, and Michael Caton (best known for THE CASTLE) is a bearded painter. (Also interestingly, Hazlehurst is currently the host of lifestyle program BETTER HOMES AND GARDENS, and Caton is the host of property-type programs including HOT PROPERTY, HOT AUCTION, etc...) This film reaffirms the popularly-held belief that Noni was arguably Australia's top female actor during the early-to-mid 1980s. Rating: 79/100.
What a dog of a movie. Noni Hazelhurst's performance is quite good, but
it sits amidst a jungle of abhorrent scriptwriting, mediocre direction
and wooden acting from the bulk of the cast. Many of the characters are
woefully miscast, particularly the ever overrated Colin Friels.
Very little works in this pretentious garbage. Much of the "character development" is done through a silly, angst-ridden voice over and frequently completely contradicts the behaviour of characters on-screen. In fact, it's hard to even figure out who the voice overs are talking about because they describe such different characters to who we see on screen! How are we meant to know Colin Friels (Javo) is meant to be an erratic, violent and unreliable junkie? One of these silly voice overs tells us. For crying out loud, the nature of his character is half the point of the movie and the only thing that lets us know is a flippin' voice over! The real killer is the characters. Everything about them. Their clothes are perfectly maintained and look fresh from the rack, despite the fact we are constantly reminded they are meant to be artsy paupers. They are all absurdly well-spoken for "junkies". None seem to have any real comprehension of life on the skids or on smack and yet this is meant to be the case with most of them.
Monkey Grip deserves no more attention than a weekday TV movie matinée. Crud like this, perfectly well shot and technically presented, but a cliché-driven angsty drama that shoots so wide of being plausible and meanders about for hours without really going anywhere. At least Noni gets down to her birthday suit at every given opportunity. There's no other sane reason to endure this junk.
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