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Garage Days   B-

Fox Searchlight Pictures

Year Released: 2002 (USA: 2003)
MPAA Rating: R
Director: Alex Proyas
Writers: Alex Proyas, Dave Warner, Michael Udesky
Cast: Kick Gurry, Maya Stange, Pia Miranda, Russell Dykstra, Brett Stiller, Chris Sadrinna, Andy Anderson, Marton Csokas.

Review by Rob Vaux

Garage Days purports to be a subversive indie comedy, the story of a struggling Australian rock band which defies our expectations at every turn. In truth, it's far more conventional than it likes to think, complete with mannered kookiness, calculated musical score, and a by-the-numbers romance. Its trump card is co-writer/director Alex Proyas, best known for downbeat science fiction films like Dark City and The Crow. Seeing him apply the same techniques he used on those works to lighter fare proves hard to resist, even if the material sometimes lacks the imagination to keep up.

Proyas is a resolute formalist who loves playing with the camera's toys and gadgets. His reliance on visual trickery made his earlier works truly memorable, and while it doesn't fit quite as well in Garage Days, it still proves serviceable. The film's wannabe rock and rollers have the same manic energy as Proyas' directing technique, while retaining a core of appeal as they go through their expected travails. They live in the Sydney suburb of Newtown, a bohemian enclave just this side of self-deluded. Their lead singer Freddy (Kick Gurry) has typically big dreams that he's sure will somehow work out, even as the band itself (which never gets a name) seems mired in obscurity. Their well-meaning manager (Russell Dykstra) is really more of a fan (he's willing to switch duties to roadie at one point), with a knack for bad timing that crushes every gig before it gets started. Their venues are slowly being taken over by slot machines and the meager audiences are... well, less than appreciative.

The band itself is full of standard misfits. Lead guitarist Joe (Brett Stiller) has adopted a Shelleyan form of romantic gloom, exacerbated by his Queen of the Goths mistress (Yvette Duncan). Drummer Lucy (Chris Sadrinna) is a pill-popping misanthrope who spends his free time knocking over pharmacies. Then there's the girls: prickly bassist Tanya (Pia Miranda), whose silver spoon background may provide the band's salvation, and Joe's songwriting girlfriend Kate (Maya Stange), on whom Freddy is secretly sweet. The love triangle between Joe, Freddy, and Kate gradually evolves into the film's centerpiece, competing for screen time with the band's efforts to land a big-league manager (Marton Csokas) guarding the Holy Grail of films like this: the Big Break.

All of it, unfortunately, feels very routine. Comedy is new territory for Proyas, but instead of boldly experimenting with the genre, he relies on archetype to help get him through. The romance is decent, but completely expected, and the band's various zany hijinks never really catch us by surprise. Garage Days makes up for it, however, in the little details. It catches the foibles of the music industry with a fair amount of smirking accuracy, as Proyas' energetic technique propels the jokes along swiftly. The characters are all likable blokes, and we enjoy watching them even if we know where their various crises are headed. And every now and then, we get a bit of pure unfiltered inspiration, such as Freddy's hellish sojourn in an AC/DC cover band, or Joe's decision to prove he's a good parent by "raising" a surrogate cassava melon.

Proyas' attitude also leads to a few genuinely subversive moments, when Garage Days turns our preconceived notions on their ears. The best is a running gag which cuts the band off before they get a chance to play, so we never know how good or bad they are... until the very end, when the proof of the pudding finally comes through. Such moments never last -- too much of the film is pure Hollywood -- but Proyas strays from the formula just often enough to keep us on our toes. The remainder is too slight and harmless to really condemn, and Garage Days keeps us on our good side even when it slips into cliché.

It also understands that rock is a game for the young. The chance to be a golden god has a limited shelf life, slipping away as the years pile up and the lapels grow wider. Garage Days applauds its characters' efforts to grab the shiny brass ring while they can, even though it knows they will never really succeed, and there it finds its featherweight charm. Like them, the movie is never as cool as it wants to be, but then again, who is?

Review published 07.21.2003.

* * *

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