THE BBQ: Getting All Up In Your Grill
The BBQ is a low-key Australian family comedy that aspires to be 2018's answer to 90's Oz comedy classic The Castle, but it's too pedestrian to follow in that films footsteps.
A full 21 years after its release, the incredible influence of Rob Sitch’s classic Australian comedy The Castle cannot be understated. Outside of just being a very quotable and well-written comedy, one of its strongest aspects was its ability to translate the undefined definition of what the typical Australian family is like, from the eclectic character dynamics, to the almost anarchic attitude towards civil discipline, whilst never falling into saccharine territory. A countless amount of movies and television shows have tried to recapture this magic, and any new Australian family comedy is always labelled “The Next Castle!”, forgetting the subversive nature that made the 1997 suburban farce such a beloved hit for Aussie audiences.
Just in January alone, Australian audiences are being subjected to two different ocker comedies that draw their primary laughs from probing traditional cultural values, with Swinging Safari targeting the 1970’s for nostalgia-inspired chuckles, and now we have The BBQ, a fairly maudlin entry that feels more like an average Disney Channel movie rather than something that deserves any cinematic attention.
The Fry of the Tiger
From a script that is bafflingly credited to 5 different writers, The BBQ is a suburban fairy tale about Darren “Dazza” Cook (Shane Jacobson, who is perfectly cast here), a loveable family man to wife Diane (Julia Zemiro), his vegan protestor daughter (Lara Robinson) and son Jayden (Frederick Simpson), who obsessively hosts a weekly BBQ at his house, an open party for his multicultural neighbourhood. After some sloppy preparation leads to an apocalyptic level of food poisoning, Dazza is forced to hang the spatula up and spend more time with his kids.
Dazza’s mistake goes viral, and thus he is selected to represent his workplace Barbeques Galore (one of the films many blatant sponsorship deals) at an international BBQ competition. It is a big challenge that requires him to train with a mysterious Scottish butcher known as “The Butcher” (Magda Szubanski), who helps him define his home-trained BBQ skills into a viable threat against celebrity chef Andre Mont Blanc (Manu Feildel). For the reality TV watching audiences who are curious, Manu Feildel is actually not bad, the biggest problem being that he’s barely given much to do outside flip his tongs, grimace at our protagonists and perform an already dated Salt Bae reference.
Have you ever seen an underdog sports film? The formula goes: An old school rookie/underdog must defy the odds, defeat an established celebrity of the chosen sport through the help of a troubled veteran. If there’s a type of sport or competitive event, you better believe there’s an inspirational sports drama about it that follows these exact narrative beats. Established storytelling isn’t a problem, the key is the execution, and The BBQ’s biggest issue is its lack of ambition.
It’s hard to criticise it as a product, because I do appreciate an Australian family adventure that never overcomplicates itself with any off-beat tangents to solidify itself as “important art”, a crutch that most Australian genre and comedy films tend to do fall into. What annoys me is just how formulaic everything feels, especially with a subject matter (Australian BBQ challenge) that feels like a great platform to really skewer some of the more outlandish aspects of Australian masculine culture.
Right from the opening shot, the seams of its low budget are evident, as we are immediately introduced into this story with a montage of pixelated, blurry stock footage that gives a startlingly poor first impression. One of the most notable terrible trends in independent cinema at the moment is an over-reliance on drone footage to give off a sense of a greater scale and technical ability, which is quickly evidenced here. The first half of The BBQ tosses in a distracting amount of imperfectly rendered drone photography that only ever feels like attempts to pad out the brief running time, especially when the grandness of the aerial views clash with the quiet, compact tale being told.
The BBQ’s transparent attempts to stretch out the thin central story is apparent through its number of inconsequential subplots, with the main offender being one centered on Diane, Dazza’s wife, who is on the cusp of receiving a promotion at her local IGA (a large Australian supermarket chain), jumping from assistant manager to store manager. Her sole scene where this is brought up only feels like it was included in order to somehow ‘organically’ integrate a scene within an IGA store, who I suspect have sponsored the movie in exchange for a positive portrayal and other promotional tie-ins.
A Story of Cooks
Whilst Dazza is busy following the plot structure of Cool Runnings, his son Jayden is off searching for evidence of his ancestry link with Captain James Cook, a family connection that his father insists is accurate. Due to the records on Cook’s life revealing the deaths of all of his potential offsprings, Jayden is determined to find out where his dad’s bombastic claims come from, teaming up with a pair of kids from school to find the missing evidence.
This fleeting storyline keeps insisting that it’s relevant to the main BBQ story, but for the most part it’s just distracting, and its inclusion feels like a need to over-explain the heavy traditional Australian patriotism inhibited by Dazza’s character. The kids’ wacky adventures often feel like a seperate film, and honestly, it could’ve been one – on the ABC, during a kids block of assorted children’s programming. The training for the BBQ championship and Jayden’s intricate search for his lost ancestral links never quite intertwine, even if a 3rd act reveal tries to force the audience to care about the connection.
Conclusion: The BBQ
The BBQ is a cliched, low-key family-friendly comedy with its heart in the right place. Outside of the questionable and often-distracting scenes of product placement, the inception of this film feels like it’s come from a place of pure love and unperturbed patriotism, a cinematic expression of the classic humanistic need to connect to others with our shared affectionate passions. Despite its low-budget trappings, the talented cast do a great job in giving a genuine sense of compassion to their characters, delivering an uncynical rendering of the typical projected Australian image.
I hate to overtly criticise such a gentle-hearted movie, but I wish that between the director and the other four credited screenwriters that worked on this project could’ve conjured up something a bit more original.
What are some of your favourite films about the art of cooking?
The BBQ will be released in Australian cinemas on February 22nd. Find more information on the film here.
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