Bran Nue Dae: A Bit of Glee From Down Under

Rabbit-Proof Fence meets High School Musical. In this film version of a 1990 Australian stage musical—the first, it's claimed, about Aboriginal life—teenage Willie road-trips picaresquely from seminary school in Perth across the Outback to his home in Broome, 2,415 miles up the Indian Ocean coast. (As Willie, Rocky McKenzie could hit it huge in America; he's got exactly the sort of Lautner/Bieber puffy baby-face look that's trendy for teen idols.) He's disappointing his devout mother, who wants him to become a priest, but he's rescuing his kind-of-girlfriend from a bad-boy bar-band singer and escaping creepy Father Benedictus. (Hey, is that Geoffrey Rush? It is!) The musical's dark backdrop is Australia's brutal treatment of Aborigines, but bouncy songs burst out implausibly. (A disco/funk cover of "Stand by Your Man" is the movie's least loopy number.) The third cinematic ingredient here is a bit of the storytelling incoherence of, say, Magical Mystery Tour; the movie plunges into action with director Rachel Perkins seeming to assume we already know who all the characters are. (Down Under, they probably do.) In fact, this Bollywood-style unself-consciousness is Bran Nue Dae's hallmark. This isn't knowing camp; the cast plays the material with an earnest, insouciant, and winning indifference to any unintentional laughs it might get. It's as colorful, sugary, and excessive as a 10-pound bag of Skittles. And for me, as irresistible.

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