It wouldn’t be summer without a feel-good musical and this one is the MAMMA MIA of 2014. The Australian film, GODDESS, ticks all the boxes. It has catchy tunes, nice singing voices, glitzy dance numbers and fairly good acting. Unfortunately, it also has a few shortcomings.
Watching the film, it should come as no surprise that GODDESS is based on a stage play. In fact, it is based on a one-woman show from 2004 called “Sink Songs”, which was written by and starred Australian Joanna Weinberg. GODDESS is the story of a British woman, Elspeth Dickens (Laura Michelle Kelly) who, along with her Irish husband James (ex-Boyzone member Ronan Keating) and their two young twin boys, has moved to Hobart, Tasmania, so that James can be closer to his whale research in Antarctic waters. Although they had made an agreement when they moved Down Under that she would look after their boys until they reached school age at which time he would take over, Elspeth is regretting that decision. The boys are now in their terrible twos and Elspeth is lonely, frustrated and at wits’ end.
In an effort to keep in touch while he is out at sea, James gives Elspeth a webcam. Unfortunately, because he’s out of range most of the time, they never seem to be able to make contact with each other. This is where the story’s shortcomings start to be seen. First, all computers these days have a webcam built in. The fact that he had to buy her a peripheral device shows the story is not current. Second, it’s pretty hard in this age of satellite technology to be out of contact with someone. Certainly on a ship there would be such communication going on. This story may work in 2004 but it just doesn’t work in 2014.
And it gets worse. Even though, Elspeth doesn’t seem to know much about the Internet, she knows enough to create a platform for herself where she can broadcast her songs to the world. Again, it doesn’t make a lot of sense. She’s doing a live broadcast and the camera is only in her kitchen. What happens when she’s not in her kitchen? It’s dead air. Someone should have told her to forget about broadcasting her sink songs, (and it’s probably illegal in Australia to broadcast without a license anyway; it certainly is in Hong Kong), and instead upload her pre-recorded videos onto YouTube where people can watch them at their leisure. I guess Elspeth never heard of Justin Bieber. Oh wait, in 2004, Justin was just a precocious 10-year-old singing in his parents’ living room in London, Ontario.
Back to the story, eventually Elspeth’s live web performances catch the attention of advertising diva, Cassandra Wolfe (Magda Szubanski), in Sydney, who hires her to be the star of their new campaign pitching frilly notebook computers to women – another archaic concept! While Elspeth is off in the big city, James comes home and, not knowing that the webcam is always on, he unwittingly becomes the subject of both global viewing and conversation. Again, if Elspeth had gone the YouTube route, none of this would have been able to happen. In the end, the story had to be in a way that didn’t make sense for there to be a story.
GODDESS is clearly a vehicle to showcase Kelly’s huge talent. The same cannot be said for Keating, who is rather wasted in his first film outing. He only has two numbers, which are both at the end of the film. They are duets with Kelly but she takes over both songs from him so that we don’t really get to appreciate his talent. Szubanski, on the other hand, makes the most of her supporting role. Her one number, “Do You Know Who I Am?”, is a show stopper.
Full marks should go to the Australians for making a film like this. It’s obvious that they don’t have the budget to compete with the Americans but they did a great job. The dance routines are top notch and they are as good as those you would see in an American production. That being said, it’s rather unfortunate that the singing was pre-recorded in a studio. I would have preferred to watch the actors sing to the camera, in the way the actors of LES MISERABLES did. This film suffers from a lack of intimacy because of the lip syncing.
On the whole though, GODDESS is a fun film for anyone who believes that success just takes a bit of luck and a half-decent Broadband connection. Script problems aside, it’s a bit on the cheesy side but it is so in an endearing way.
Listen to the review online on Radio 4. (Click on the link. Select Part 2 and slide the time bar over to 38:15.)