"Introducing the Dwights" is a marvelous Australian family dramedy that occasionally creates the claustrophobic sensation of being trapped in quarreling hell. That's both a compliment and criticism of this flawed, but admirable, drama, which asks the audience to be patient with characters that one would logically run away from screaming.
Jean (Brenda Blethyn) is a mother of two still trying to keep her dream of comedic performance alive in local casinos, while holding her family together with a dreary day job in a cafeteria. Tim (Kahn Chittenden) is her eldest; a young man who has fallen in love with a high-maintenance girl named Jill (Emma Booth). Finding unexpected love puts a strain on Tim's relationship with both women in his life, revealing the caustic emotional limitations of his mother, and Jill's demands on him for an environment change that's long overdue.
Written by Keith Thompson, "Dwights" is your average, formulaic coming-of-age, overbearing-mother experience, complete with a skittish deflowering, hateful drunken episodes, and the healing power of classic rock. It's to the writer's credit that he is able to shape the characters as real as he does. He zeros in on their destructive insecurities and persuasive fears that anyone could easily relate to, and milks the conflicts for as long as the film will withstand. Since "Dwights" has little to nothing in the way of a plot, it relies solely on these complex emotions, leading the film to fascinating, thunderstruck moments of doubt and regret.
Director Cherie Nowlan also has great command of the cast; taking a wild assortment of personalities and making them feel like a family whole instead of a prickly assembly of clichés. Standouts include Chittenden and Booth, who maintain a curious authenticity to their diseased relationship, and Richard Wilson, playing Tim's mentally-challenged brother Mark. Combining a healthy sense of humor with a frightening unpredictability to Mark's daydreaming impulses, "Dwights" lightens up every moment the young actor is onscreen.
Shamefully, Nowlan loses complete control of the finale, detonating the burgeoning tension by having the family scream at each other for a good 20 minutes. Trust me, if the film stars Brenda Blethyn and the script calls for an argument, your best bet would be to run for the hills. The actress is in full Oscar-bating caterwaul mode here, single-handedly shredding the film with her tendency to blast her Blethyny voice to migraine status. What's strange is how Nowlan doesn't put a stop to any of this, seemingly comfortable that a needless and aggressive bout of catharsis is what the film was building to all along. The yelling matches are a wet blanket on a delicate, nuanced character study, and if you decided to leave the theater at the 80-minute mark, you'd be a smarter person than I.
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