Review of “Bran Nue Dae”

Bran Nue Dae is an over-the-top musical based on the late 1980s Australian play of the same name, about an Aboriginal boy who defies his original destiny and travels across the continent to get back home.

Featuring bisexual singer-songwriter Missy Higgins in a supporting role (and one of the film’s chief singers), it’s a fun, colorful romp through fresh territory.

We follow our title character Willie (Rocky McKenzie) as he hangs out in the tiny town of Broome. He’s a dreamer and a doer, a serious young guy who spends much of his time at boarding school in faraway Perth, where he’s studying to be a priest. He pines for the prettiest girl in town, Rosie (Jessica Mauboy, an Australian Idol runner-up), who herself is pursuing a musical career.

Once at boarding school, Willie lives under the thumb of Father Benedictus (Geoffrey Rush, in what may be his goofiest role of all time), who secretly sneers at his dark-skinned charges.

When our hero takes the blame for one of his friend’s transgressions, Benedictus goes off on a racist rampage, prompting one of the funniest musical numbers of the film. “There’s nothing I would rather be, than to be an aborigine!” sing the boys, scatting around the somber church. This may be the first – but certainly not the last — truly surreal moment in the film.

Willie runs away and encounters “Uncle Tadpole” (Ernie Dingo), an affable bum who spouts all sorts of wisdom and promises Willie to lead him back home. After taking Willie’s money and spending it on booze, Tadpole does the right thing (in his mind, anyway) and literally runs straight into a passing hippy van, hoping to inspire a guilt trip and a free ride.

Here we meet Slippery (Tom Budge), a wimpy German hippy, and Annie (Missy Higgins, grinning ear-to-ear for most of the film) his super-spiritual girlfriend. Feeling bad about the “accident”, they agree to take our heroes along to Broome. Meanwhile, Benedictus takes off from the school on a search to find his disobedient charge. Everyone races to get to Broome first.

What follows is a zany, colorful chase through the physical and cultural landscape of Australia, including more than a few mishaps along the way. Willie and company encounter a couple of lusty women out on the open road (including the amorous Roxanne played by Deborah Mailman and the gun-toting Roadhouse Betty, played by Magda Szubanski), deal with car troubles, dodge Slippery’s temper and some local wildlife, and have a run-in with the law, all to great comedic effect.