Australian comedy movies are like buses: you wait for ages for one and then two come along at once and they’re badly designed and clearly unroadworthy contraptions full of scary, crazy, smelly people you’d much rather have nothing to do with. Everyone knows the Australian film industry is in a mess, but it’s hard to appreciate exactly how much of a mess until you realise that The Kings of Mykonos: Wog Boy 2 managed to get made while Shaun Micallef’s film project Teacher Boy is nowhere to be found.
First things first though, and Peter Helliar’s film I Love You Too has been around long enough now to make two things obvious: most film critics in this country don’t know shit about shit, and Peter Helliar is a very smart man. He’s a very smart man because it doesn’t take long in watching this film – which he wrote and co-stars in – to realise that it’s not actually trying to be a comedy. Or if it is, it’s a romantic comedy that’s way, way down the romantic end of things. This counts as a smart move because while Helliar isn’t all that funny, he does seem (on the strength of this film) to be a fairly romantic kind of guy.
(in a gratuitous and unfair contrast, for all Tony Martin’s comedy strong points, it’s a little difficult imagining him making a film that was romantic in anything but an understated, ironic way. It’d be funnier, but it wouldn’t be able to do the “run for the airport to stop the love of your life leaving forever” run without putting a comedy spin on it.)
So while there’s not really a lot of quality laughs here (if you’ve seen the trailer, you’ve seen most of them), it doesn’t matter because the romance side of things is what’s moving the film forward. It’s hardly a great romance either, but director Daina Reid (who might remember from her performing days on Full Frontal, or her directing work on Very Small Business) does a great job of making this look like an actual movie (not a charge you could lay against most Australian film comedies) with a very warm and romantic feel to proceedings. And that makes a hell of a difference.
So rather than failing at one thing massively, I Love You Too fails slightly at a couple of things, which means that a lot of the time you don’t even notice it’s failing at all. This is where the other half of Helliar’s genius comes into play, as – hang on, here’s the plot: Jim (Brendan Cowell) loves his girlfriend but can’t say it to her so she dumps him. He then tries to win her back with the help of an American dwarf (Peter Dinklage) he met while breaking into his car. There’s also a miniature railroad, but it’s not really vital to the plot.
Anyway, having Jim’s love sidekick be a dwarf is both totally gratuitous – there is no reason whatsoever for the character to be a dwarf, though rumour has it a number of dwarf-joke heavy scenes (including one set in a dwarf-tossing bar) were cut from the script at Dinklage’s request – and totally brilliant. That’s because it means they were able to cast Dinklage, who is a first-rate American actor (as seen in The Station Agent and Death at a Funeral) who’s performance lifts the film greatly but who is a lot less likely to be being offered major roles compared to comparable actors of regular height. Basically, a five foot plus tall actor as good as Dinklage would be, say, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, and chances are Hoffman wouldn’t come out to Australia to star next to Helliar… mostly because people would get them confused.
Where the bit about Australian film reviewers not knowing shit comes from is that pretty much all the major reviews I’ve read of this film have taken it to task almost entirely because it’s not that funny. This is true, but it’s besides the point: anyone who actually pays attention to what’s happening with this film – and doesn’t just go “if Peter Helliar wrote it, why isn’t it as gag-packed as PeteSpace was on Rove MOVIE FAIL” – should be able to spot that a lot of the time it’s not really trying to be funny. This isn’t full of jokes that flop (that’s Wog Boy 2), this is full of scenes where a couple of wry comments are thrown into a semi-serious chat. In failing to spot that basic difference a lot of reviewers have been writing / talking a lot of crap.
Basically, if there was a romantic version of “dramedy” this would be its Platonic ideal. The irony is that while Australian review culture is constantly falling all over itself to praise shithouse no-joke comedies because the label “dramedy” gives them a get-out-of-laughs-free card, this film – which again, has clearly been built to be a romantic film with some laughs, and succeeds at this limited goal fairly well – gets dissed and dismissed because it’s roughly as funny as everything else Helliar has ever done but tries hard to give you something else to enjoy alongside the limp gags.
The time to beat up on Helliar was / is when he’s out there flat-out trying to be funny: with this – where for once he’s realised his limitations in the comedy area, worked hard to work around them and create something that works despite his flaws – a cautious and limited thumbs up for once feels like the right response.