There is a running gag within this adaptation of Jimmy Chi’s 1989 musical whereby the Australian chocolate bar, the Cherry Ripe, is held up as the apple of everyone’s eye as a treat of significant stature. It’s an interesting icon within the film because if anything it sums up Rachel Perkins’ adaptation to a tee. For whilst a Cherry Ripe is a pleasant-enough experience whilst being eaten it’s a chocolate bar far greater in style than in substance. The rich, dark chocolate is smooth and a nice antidote to the overwhelmingly sweet combination of the cherry-coconut mix in its centre, however, it’s not long after one finishes its consumption that the Cherry Ripe loses its charm and ends up being a slightly annoying if not forgettable treat. The shredded coconut winds up inevitably between teeth and the intoxicating sweetness soon leaves one’s tongue as that illusive piece of coconut is sought after by that ever-searching appendage.
In effect Perkins’ film falls victim to that same problem as one is swept away by the insane silliness and effervescent joy on screen, following each frame with ever-awaiting eyes and a smile firmly set. It doesn’t take long, however, after the film’s eighty-eight minutes concludes that one begins to wonder what the hell went on and whether or not the insipid tunes actually held any substance or merely that pop-catchiness that makes the likes of Britney Spears or even its star, Jessica Mauboy, sell records. Sure there are the likes of the show-stopper, ‘Nothing I Would Rather Be (Than To Be An Aborigine)’ which raise interesting questions,
There’s nothing I would rather be
Than to be an Aborigine
and watch you take my precious land away.
For nothing gives me greater joy
than to watch you fill each girl and boy
with superficial existential shit
Now you may think I’m cheeky
But I’d be satisfied
to rebuild your convict ships
and sail them on the tide.
I love the way you give me God
and of course the mining board,
for this of course I thank the Lord each day.
I’m glad you say that land rights wrong.
Then you should go where you belong
and leave me to just keep on keeping on,
and express incredibly valid and heartfelt opinions, however, they’re sandbagged by a silly romance that’s made to look plausible by the even sillier antics of a hypocritical German priest (Geoffrey Rush) and the religion-obsessed mother (Ningali Lawford) of one of his pupils (Rocky McKenzie). Like the Cherry Ripe so lovingly longed for within the film there are strong parts to Perkins’ work – Dingo is ingeniously cheeky, Sultan appropriately sexy, Mauboy naturally charismatic and Lesnie’s cinematography wonderfully picturesque – yet they don’t amount to more than a good time that seems far less with each passing thought of the film.
In the end, Bran Nue Dae, is fun but silly and pretty to look at but ultimately a blip on the year that will hopefully be 2010 in film.