JWR Articles: Film/DVD - Malcolm (Director: Nadia Tass) - July 21, 2009
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Malcolm

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4.5 4.5
90 min.

BFDVD1005
The Joy of Tram

How refreshing it is to come across a film that handles the delicate subject of a social misfit who harbours an intellect and imagination that would be the envy of countless “normal” people. Who knew?

As the mechanical wizard, societal introvert, Colin Friels delivers a magnificently sensitive performance. Like all of those permitted into his solitary world (Malcolm lives alone following the recent death of his mom), within minutes of hearing his direct (“Did they put your dad’s head back on for the funeral?” he wonders aloud), hesitant speech, it’s impossible not to like the young man. His mechanical genius fills the house and its environs with incredible wizardry: a remote-controlled lorry fetches his daily ration of milk from Mrs. T (Beverley Phillips); Arnold, a chatty pet cockatoo, travels the backyard in his personal gondola; once the postman blows his whistle, a mail car rolls into action and ferries the letters from the curb-side box to its recipient.

Akin to some who are hyperactive, Malcolm is hyper-industrial. However, after taking his spare-part built personal tram for an afterhours joy ride (figuratively and literally: Friels’ expressive visage frequently beams brighter than a halogen lamp), the Melbourne tram mechanic gets sacked from his day job and is soon forced to accept a boarder to make ends meet.

After a hilarious non-interview interview (David Parker’s script is filled to the brim with happiness, joy and savvy understanding of the human experience), Frank (John Hargreaves at the top of his form) symbolically takes over Malcolm’s mother’s room and tries adapting to the neighbourhood, which includes the well-intentioned if a tad nosey Mrs. T and the street’s only beauty, Jenny (Judith Stratford) who would like nothing better for her boy-next-door to break out of his shyness and ride her willing rails.

But before you can say “My last residence was jail,” Frank’s long-suffering girlfriend, Judith (a pitch-perfect performance by Lindy Davies) joins the men (“But we’ve no more bedrooms,” says the naive landlord) and life begins again.

Far from being a “goody-goody” or “half-wit” or “moron” (in Frank’s considered estimation whenever he feels threatened or suffers from lack of pity and respect), Malcolm is only too happy to help his tenant get back to work. With only one trade to draw upon, the jailbird and his new-found accomplice opt to rob the Anglo Swiss Bank (the Aussies have no qualms about stealing from a foreign institution whose clients are “all crooks” anyway). Also thrown out of work (nearly literally: after Frank defended his sexy woman’s honour in a cheesy diner, she ends up with a pink slip), Judith—in a severe case of “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em”—becomes the Moll of the gang, if only to keep the men in her life out of the slammer.

From that point forward, director Nadia Tass’ film shifts into high gear with one of the most delightful heist sequences ever to grace the big screen. Rather than don masks and brandish revolvers, the three amigos drive three mobile trash cans into the financial fortress and do the caper from within the relatively sage confines of a chameleon-like van. Especially fun is the move-in where the trio of wheeling dustbins brilliantly slip past the cleaning staff and take an elevator up to the appointed floor. To accompany this magical “places, everyone” action is the ukulele-rich music tracks from composer/leader Simon Jeffes and the Penguin Cafe Orchestra. Absolutely delightful is the hide-and-seek (even the band gets to play!) with the night guard (Peter Hosking) who has the uncomfortable feeling that he’s hearing voices, yet can’t find the source.

No spoilers here, but none are really required. The frequently whimsical tone is deftly balanced by the very subtle observations from the creative team as to how the “different” amongst us shouldn’t be judged by their covers. For once they are known for who and what they are, there’s no telling what they might get away with. JWR

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