REVIW: Sex and Eczema Aside, A Worthy "Praise"
(indieWIRE/6.29.2000) --Novelist/screenwriter Andrew McGahan apparently has a small penis. This fact has been thrust upon us because McGahan's outpourings in his recent book-to-film "Praise" are said to be autobiographical, and the film's lead character, Gordan -- the celluloid version of the writer -- admits his sex organ is less than five inches when erect.
Such honesty immediately drew director John Curran to the project. As he notes in his statement which has been handed out to the press: "The fact that Gordon freely admits his sexual inadequacies doesn't automatically make him noble, but you have to give him credit for honesty. In my experience, it is rare to hear a man talking openly about his failures in the bedroom and then even rarer to hear a man confess that he has a little penis. I'm 37-years-old and I've never heard a man admit he has a little dick. This alone is reason enough for me to admire Gordon."
Sex organs aside, the assured and unflamboyant "Praise," which takes place mainly in a down-and-out Brisbane boarding house populated by old geezers, is quite entertaining.
First, there's the aforementioned, moderately endowed Gordon (Peter Fenton, the lead singer of a popular Australian band, Crow). After quitting his job as a bottle boy, this laconic, hard-drinking, cigarette-smoking asthmatic without any goals gets a phone call from Cynthia (Sacha Horler). She, a blonde, meaty gal who worked as a barmaid with Gordan, quit her job the very same night. Would Gordon like to come over to her pad?
He does, never knowing what he's getting into. Cynthia is a sex addict. She collects orgasms like suburban wives in the fifties collected Green Stamps. If she can't find love, a bang on the mattress will do. After their first frantic coupling with Cynthia aggressively on top, the horny gal apologizes: "Sorry. It's been so long since I've done it with a boy. A week. Can we do it again?"
Gordon doesn't know how to say no even though sex doesn't really work for him. He always feels something is missing. Cynthia is about to change all that when she teaches the young gent to masturbate her. He suddenly has a "Pi" revelation: "It wasn't sex," he says. "It was vectors. It was speed and mathematics. And math was something I was good at. It was a victory of science."
Gordon is so happy that not even Cynthia's eczema, which causes her to scratch and bleed, can dampen his ardor. Time does that. Time and drugs and an eventually one-sided passion.
Of course, you know this relationship is going to end sourly from the beginning. The how is what keeps you in your seat. Beautifully acted, written and directed with first-rate cinematography by Dion (Holy Smoke) Beebe, "Praise" will certainly fill your need for a movie about dysfunctional, on-the-dole folks who experiment with heroin. However, if this one only whets your appetite, don't forget "Jesus'Son" is on selected screens around, too.
[Brandon Judell is a contributing critic to indieWIRE.]