Beautiful Kate

Year: 2009
Production Co: Beautiful Kate Productions
Director: Rachel Ward
Writer: Rachel Ward
Cast: Ben Mendelsohn, Sophie Lowe, Rachel Griffiths, Bryan Brown, Maeve Dermody

It's all about how much you know. Wondering what sort of past trauma and discord haunts the family at the centre of this drama keeps it from being just another droll coming-of-age-in-the-outback-tale, the kind we've suffered from Australia's film funding bodies for far too long.

When city slicker Ned (Mendelsohn) drives into a flyspeck township to see his family with girlfriend Toni (Dermody) in tow, we have no idea why there's unease between he and sister Sally (Griffiths), or why he seems to want nothing to do with his ailing father Bruce (Brown).

They were a happy country family once, Bruce an unloving father but Ned and his brother and younger sister Kate (Lowe) relying on each other for support.

But after their mother's death they've been isolated in the country and without guidance from their emotionally retarded father for far too long, and they go from being close to crossing a dangerous line that haunts Ned to this day, years after both his siblings have died.

Ned's disengagement from his emotions because of the pain he's lived with and his guilt at his brother and sisters deaths is a well-worn trope even though Mendelsohn's hangdog expression conveys it effectively.

It's during the flashbacks of the gormless Kate that the movie comes to life, and not just because Lowe's a beautiful girl or because writer/director Ward has her take her clothes off at every opportunity, or her mix of childlike innocence and seductive sexuality that's so rare. Her scenes have genuine warmth that's missing from the rest of the film as Ned tries to sort out the guilt and his blame for his father, but the film's no less involving for it.

The locale and any marketing would have put off a lot of people expecting another September / Samson and Delilah hybrid, but it's better than you expect.

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