The Rage in Placid Lake

Lovable Aussie satire and sardonic character comedy. A joy to watch.

Released in 2003, certified UK-15. Reviewed on 05 Apr 2005 by Scott Morris
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I am, as any one who has witnessed the outpourings on this site for any length of time will attest, a miserable sod. Petty, small minded and fault-finding, I am not so much difficult to please as I am easy to disappoint. As such it's a rare and glorious event when I can walk out of a screening genuinely stumped for nits to pick. Meet The Rage in Placid Lake.

The Placid Lake we're concerned with here is not the crocodile infested water concourse of 2000's sarcastic monster outing, rather a graduating Australian high school student. With an unusual outlook on life caused largely by the infliction of his new-age, hippy-drippy parent's values on him and the subsequent beatings taken for having the temerity to be different, his latest bright idea (after memorably subverting a student film contest) leaves him in traction, as breaking every bone in your body is wont to do. Left plenty of time to consider his future options, Placid (Ben Lee) decides he's had enough of being the odd man out.

If Placid Lake cannot fit into society, and Placid Lake cannot change society, then Placid Lake must change to fit into society. Donning a shirt and tie he bluffs his way into a job at an insurance firm, to the abject horror of his bookish best friend Gemma (Rose Byrne, who went on to be Achilles' squeeze in Troy. This film seems to have taken the slow boat over to U.K. cinema screens). His parents, ineffectual radio talk show host Doug (Garry McDonald) and documentary maker Sylvia (Miranda Richardson) see his choice of career path as nothing less than an act of rebellion and harbour notions of 'deprogramming' him, while Gemma can't accept it as anything more than another game Placid plays.

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While Placid's change of tack is also causing Gemma to question the preplanned path that her polyester clad father Bill (Nicholas Hammond) seems to have laid out for her, Placid's career is on a meteoric rise thanks to luck, coincidence, skilled truthbending and the tutelage of his boss, Joel (Christopher Stollery). That this workplace environment, replete with petty rivalries and romances turns into something of an ad hominem attack on corporate culture grinding originality out of people would perhaps be tired were it not both unquestionably true and astonishingly funny.

Which is the overriding consideration in The Rage in Placid Lake; it's darn funny. Apparently released to mediocre notices and box office takings in its native Oz, it only goes to show what happens to taste in the colonies once the gentle mantle of the Empire slips from them. Perhaps it doesn't show enough 'barbies' or 'sheilas' or 'dingoes ate me babies' for the refined palette of Australian pop culture. Anyhoo, this film might seem on potted recap to be one of those insufferable and largely unrealistic 'teen angst' melodramas that stink up multiplexes on a semi-regular basis, but the heart of Placid Lake is really concerned with the minor crisis of confidence that blindside us on a sleepless Thursday night. The old 'where am I going and do I really want to get there, and not somewhere more over in that direction' might not be the most novel of existential worries to riff on but it hasn't got any less universal of late.

Sporting an attitude somewhere between absurdist and sardonic, The Rage in Placid Lake winds up playing like The Rise and Fall of Reginald Perrin meets Fight Club. Ben Lee, more noted for his singer/songwriting day job than this unscheduled diversion into acting plays the role so well you can't help but wonder how much of his own experience was translated into the performance, albeit writ very large indeed. With immaculate timing and delivery, the skill with which he relays writer/director Tony McNamara's script should ensure him an alternate career path should he tire of the tunesmithery.

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It's not just Lee that impresses. Both Richardson and McDonald show just the right mix of concern, selfishness and absurdity as Placid's parents, and Francis McMahon as Placid's hapless office rival Anton paints an intriguing portrait of a character slowly 'going postal' with precious few sentences and facial expressions. Even Placid's bit part school bullies get some character development, and that's a rare thing indeed. Critical to the success of the film is the chemistry between Ben Lee and Rose Byrne, creating a believable and natural-looking friendship that brings an emotional centre to the more intellectual character analysis that the bulk of the film is concerned with.

I cannot find anything wrong with The Rage in Placid Lake, and feel slightly dirty for even trying to. It's going to be one of the funniest films this year, of that I guarantee comfortably. Perhaps if you haven't hit the same introspective moments Placid experiences, or are merely genuinely content with a life of filing, you might not feel the empathy with Placid that I do. In which case you may not get quite the same abject joy I did from this flick, but if it's any consolation it can be replaced with my utter envy for your state of affairs. For anyone else, and indeed anyone who fancies themselves as having a sense of humour, The Rage in Placid Lake gets the highest recommendation I can dole out. As a added bonus, why not play the exciting game of 'Spot the Arbitrary and Inexplicable Claire Danes Cameo'? Fabulous prizes to be won!*

Were I in the business of passing quantifiable judgements, I'd award this 5/5 TippyMarks.

Tony McNamara
Cast list:
Ben Lee (Placid Lake)
Rose Byrne (Gemma Taylor)
Garry McDonald (Doug Lake)
Miranda Richardson (Sylvia Lake)
Christopher Stollery (Joel)
Jesse Spence (Jenny)
Simone Cullinan (Sharon)
Nicholas Hammond (Bill Taylor)
Francis McMahon (Anton)
Claire Danes (That would ruin the game, wouldn't it?)

* May not actually involve any prizes, or competitions for that matter. Calls cost ?1.50 per minute, please ask permission from whoever pays the bill before calling. No purchase necessary. Cash value 0.0001p.