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The Illustrated Family Doctor

Year: 2005
Director: Kriv Stenders
Writer: Kriv Stenders
Cast: Samuel Johnson, Colin Friels, Kestie Morassi, Sascha Horler
With the director, financiers and at least some moviegoers hoping The Illustrated Family Doctor is something new, is it?

The story of a guy with what lead actor Johnson terms 'frailties, a real guy with real problems', it's the polar opposite of Priscilla: Queen of the Desert and Strictly Ballroom of the world. If you want a light romantic comedy, stay away. The Illustrated Family Doctor is about a guy descending rapidly into ill health as his life, relationships and work crumble around him.

It has a maudlin pace as we follow Gary (Johnson) through a series of crises in his personal life. To make matters worse he works at a specialist publisher modelled on Reader Digest that condenses popular books into more accessible form, and his current assignment – the Illustrated Family Doctor, complete with images of every gangrenous and oozing wound you can imagine – that's turning his stomach.

He tries to connect with colleague and pseudo mentor Ray (Friels) as well as Ray's beautiful and equally lost daughter Christine (Napier), all the while circumnavigating his boss, all corporate catchphrases and office buffoonery, while feeling worse every day.

It's more a surrealist expression that a story, with no immediately apparent point or resolution. The pacing is overlong most of the time, and you're waiting for jokes that never materialise.

The script is nowhere near as atrocious as some of the rubbish you see on screen from both the US and Australia, but much more effort could have been put into the direction and casting. For his forlorn, lost puppy dog-ness, Johnson is either as laid back with his talent as he is with his career drive or lacks the confidence to carry a lead role, seeming like a long string of potential young Australian leading men that have gone nowhere through lack of charisma.

Stenders also employs too much camerawork trickery to make it artier, like his penchant for positioning the subject off centre in the frame. You can see he's trying to make the proceedings off centre, but doing it literally is just like those stupid comic strip panels all the way through Ang Lee's Hulk – they're just a distracting irritation.

On the upside, The Illustrated Family Doctor does one thing very well. In it's portrayal of the Info Digest and Gary's everybody's-mate boss, it captures Australian corporate life very well, satire criminally underused in Australian movies and only done well once before in recent memory, in The Rage in Placid Lake.

But ultimately no one film will revitalise the Australian film field (people are saying there's not even enough life left in it to call it an 'industry' any more). And if it were, The Illustrated Family Doctor isn't it.

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