Jacob Richardson | 17/10/2017
Overstuffed and overwhelmingly cheesy, Three Summers has little of the humour, and even less of the acerbic, biting, rapid-fire wit of Ben Elton’s earlier work.
Set over the course of three ‘Wesitival’s’, held annually, Three Summers generally follows the love story between the young lead singer of an Irish folk band (Rebecca Breeds) and an Irish, folk-music hating Theremin player (Robert Sheehan). Intertwined in their tale is that of a racist old Morris Dancer (Michael Caton), a group of wine-loving empty nesters, a young gothic girl group, a ridiculous security guard, and a beloved Westival emcee (Magda Szubanski).
The central relationship is relatively standard, and while there are brief moments of connection, for the most part Sheehan’s performance dwarf’s Breeds’, leading to a relationship that never really feels real. It’s a shame, because certainly there is something here in the way that these two develop their relationship over the course of a number of years that feels less than common. Indeed, Sheehan’s Theremin player is an intriguing portrait of someone more suited to teaching than playing; a technical wonder who has none of the raw passion and talent that his lady love does. But these small deviations from traditional archetypes are too insignificant in comparison to the well-worn path of this mismatched musician love story, and their presence can’t rescue what feels like a stale relationship.
Some of the supporting characters pick up the slack, and with a who’s who of Australian acting talent involved, they all give varying degrees of good performances. Certainly, Michael Caton gives a difficult character a strong voice in his racist grandad persona, and while his eventual redemption feels contrived, Elton should be given credit for turning what may have been a ridiculous scene of Caton’s Morris Dancer performing a traditional indigenous dance into a touching tribute. While Magda Szubanski’s early appearances in the film grate, her indefatigable performance refuses to be sidelined, and she marks the character out as her own even amongst such a broad tapestry.
As is often the case with a crowded ensemble piece like this, some stories are underserved. The four empty nesters feel underdeveloped, as does a young gothic group. But for the most part Elton manages to flesh out the individual stories enough, and provide enough interlinking points, to create a breathable, upbeat film. And while Deborah Mailman’s alcoholism councillor feels like she belongs in a different film, Kate Box’s security guard Linda is far and away the stand out, and provides genuine laugh out loud moments in a film that otherwise tends to focus on humor that makes you smile more than chuckle.
Nevertheless, Three Summers can’t escape the weight of so many stories, and too regularly falls back on well-trodden tropes to drive emotion in the audience. We know what we should feel in this point, or that point, or the runtime or the story arc because we have seen the exact same thing so many times before. For someone who has pushed the boundaries and created such cutting edge comedy in the past, it’s a shame that Elton decided to fall back on something so safe now.
There’s something here, but it’s not quite fleshed out enough, nor quite funny enough, nor quite interesting enough, to truly make it rise above the pack. Not one to avoid, but not one to seek out either.