From writer/director Stephan Elliot (most notably the man behind The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert), comes Swinging Safari. Taking place in a small Australian beachside town, the irreverent comedy is a nostalgic exaggeration of the libido-driven madness that was the 70s. Through the eyes of 14-year-old Jeff Marsh (Atticus Robb), we are introduced to the three intertwined families that live on his cul-de-sac, their out of control children, and their self-absorbed parents.
You’ll notice that introduction is more about Swinging Safari’s setting than its story, and that’s because when it comes down to it, I couldn’t tell you what it’s really about. Don’t get me wrong, things happen. Plenty of things… probably too many, truth be told. But if you were to put a gun to my head ask me what the core plot was, I wouldn’t be able to tell you. Swinging Safari does its best to skate along on the dysfunction of its characters, but without a main thread for the audience to follow, all the wacky antics blend together into one big homogenous distraction. Even the titular evening of mid-life-crisis depravity (largely implied to be a key point in the film) turns out to be little more than another in a series of cheap, self-contained gags.
As unfocussed as the plot is, it’s clear that Elliot intends Swinging Safari to be both a coming-of-age story for young Jeff Marsh and a celebration of the obnoxious, shrimp-on-the-barbie Australian. It’s clear, because the film tells us quite directly with a combination of clichés lifted from other C.O.A. flicks, as well as the heavy handed narration that ensures any traces of excess subtlety are promptly seen to. To be fair, there are some nice moments sprinkled throughout the runtime, particularly between Jeff and his melancholy love interest Melly (Darcey Wilson). I also like the idea that the whole community, adults and all, is going through a pubescent change under the 70’s zeitgeist. Unfortunately, the constant jumping from one setup to another keeps the characters from evolving and the status quo from changing, preventing a coming-of-age from ever actually coming (despite all the exposition telling us otherwise).
And boy is there some exposition to be found in this movie. It’s hardly uncommon for this kind of comedy to play a little loose with the ‘show don’t tell’ rule of storytelling, but a less organic movie I have not seen in some time. Almost every scene has at least one of the cast members telling the audience what they are doing there, or why that one unrelated exchange from before means they are now motivated to do this other ridiculous thing. When combined with all the frantic bouncing around the movie does, it starts to become really difficult to tell what’s meant to be setup and what’s a punchline (a pretty damn big problem in a comedy).
The humour itself seems pretty clearly targeted at an older (and a very white) demographic. Swinging Safari trades in being outrageous, but always does so in a very safe and harmless way. Yes, there are characters who are essentially a walking a blowjob joke, and gags with people being covered in blood and guts, but it’s all done with a wink that says, “Here’s a movie to make you feel like you’re watching outrageous and indulgent without you needing to be confronted with any non-Caucasian characters”. In the end, whether you the find it funny or not is probably going to come down to whether you think it’s all good-natured larrikinism, or if you think they’re just a bunch of shitty people.
Personally (as you probably have guessed), I came out with the latter opinion, but I suspect that’s because the characters themselves were so poorly constructed. The dialogue is generally terrible throughout the film, which makes it a little hard to believe in any of the cast, but worse is how heavily they all lean into their archetypes. Some of the bigger names (such as Guy Pearce and Kylie Minogue), manage to squeeze a little bit of personality out of the clichés they are playing, whereas others like Asher Keddie dive in way too hard and end up extremely grating as a result. The less said about the extended cast the better, though, in all fairness, they don’t have much to work with.
Hackneyed comedy, messy storytelling, and a surprisingly tame sense of humour for how outrageous it tries to be, Swinging Safari is recommended only for those desperate to watch something Australian in the cinemas.
SCREEN REALM SCORE: ★★☆☆☆