Critics Lab

MWFF2018 Opening Night: Love Serenade

By Hannah Pratt


The 2nd Melbourne Women in Film Festival opened with a screening of the 1996 Australian quirky comedy Love Serenade, a film about freedom and loss. Though celebrating its 22nd anniversary, the film is still relevant and timely today, especially given the current ‘Me Too’ and ‘Time’s Up’ movements.

The minimal characters and setting in the film make it an almost claustrophobic experience. In the small Murray River town of Sunray we are introduced to sisters Vicky-Anne and Dimity Hurley. The film has strong character performances from Rebecca Frith and Miranda Otto. The town of Sunray itself is stark, an oppressive place with no room for growth. Birds fly across the beautiful blue skies of Sunray, evoking an unattainable freedom for Dimity and Vicky-Anne. This film keeps to the tradition of Australian cinema in showcasing our landscape, credit to Mandy Walker’s cinematography. The vast emptiness that on the outskirts of town reinforces an overbearing lack of freedom.

Like much of previous Australian comedy, it relishes in making audiences squirm from embarrassment. Dimity’s attempt at being sexy is ensured to be the least sexy thing imaginable. Love Serenade works in much the same way we cannot help but cringe-laugh at the characters of Kath and Kim as they create incredibly awkward moments and situations.

Smooth-talking radio DJ Ken Sherry (George Shevtsov) arrives in town and proves to be a novelty to the sisters. As a celebrity in this claustrophobic town, he offers Dimity and Vicky-Anne freedom ­– both as a romantic interest and a glamorous addition to Sunray. However, there seems to be no real difference between Ken’s manipulation of the women and the way other males yell at Dimity and Vicky-Anne on the street. Sherry’s seduction routine – Barry White croons, “take it off, baby, take it all off” on the catchy 70s soundtrack – parallels the way the sisters are catcalled by a group of men or young boys. All are degrading, and quite frankly creepy. One wonders how either of those attempts at flattery would be welcomed.

While this is very much a film driven by women, a character like Ken Sherry is an embodiment of the misogynistic, oversexualised content in pop music and culture that continues today. Miramax’s later distribution of the film further adds to this ongoing narrative of power and powerlessness. Fortunately it is refreshing that the two female characters, unflattering as they may be, seem far more real than previous women characters in film.

Whitney Monaghan