Waiting For Another Cliché…

July 11, 2010

Admittedly far less offensive than Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire (2008), multitasking writer/director/producer Claire McCarthy’s The Waiting City (2009) is a film best described as “tourist cinema”. Much like the middle classes who find the time and fortunes to “travel” (an extended and supposedly more valid word for ‘holiday’ so far as this writer is concerned), The Waiting City offers a view of a “foreign” country that is terribly unsophisticated and worse yet condescending for its incessant, naive use of cliché.

It is difficult to ascertain whether or not McCarthy’s choosing India as the location and “backdrop” is incidental or politically motivated. Purportedly based on “a number of Australian adoption experiences in India” (Screen Daily) it is entirely possible that the film is just very poorly timed in terms of the recent controversy surrounding Australian violence against Indian people in Victoria and NSW.  But whether or not there is a connection I dare say that the often generalised view of Indian people the film offers; charming yet somehow amusing and entertaining for their idiosyncratic naivety; admirable and yet somehow still puzzlingly simplistic in culture and thus outlook; is likely to be something of a sore point in its wider viewer reception. But when you really get down to it, India is just the film’s backdrop against which a white heteronormative couple face their only real problem in life: that they cannot procreate – a problem, as it so turns out, that they have themselves created.

Fiona (Radha Mitchell) and Ben (Joel Edgerton) Simmons are a married couple who are a) travelling to Kolkata to adopt a child and b) suffering a crisis in their relationship. Fiona is a highly strung, always preoccupied, almost-uber-bitch, business minded lawyer and Ben is a failed musician; the two extremes set against each other as a thinly veiled guise for how indulging in any extreme – be it corporate or creative – is an essential human fault. The premise of the film is that through the process of “waiting” (the pace of life and bureaucracy in India being much less efficient than in the converse western world) they find more of themselves and ultimately therefore, each other. The film is heavy on not so subtly suggestive dialogue, free spirit Ben telling Fiona, “Go on, jump in” at the poolside when she nears the precipice of loosening up, allowing life to “happen”, and undergoing a transparent, simultaneous wardrobe/life change.

Essentially, the two learn from their experience abroad that life is a journey rather than a destination, which, is absolutely fine, but not exactly insightful when even last week’s episode of Glee managed to draw this apparent life conclusion. Perhaps the biggest point of contention is whether or not the viewer is supposed to align him/herself with the two clueless, cliché ridden protagonists? If the answer is yes (which I strongly suspect it is) then the film is as uninteresting and impertinent as I’ve indicated. If however the answer is no, then it’s just possible that the film is attempting to (negatively) comment upon the well established stereotype of annoying westerners who go abroad to “find themselves” (certainly, at the very least, the character Scarlett so irritatingly played by Isabel Lucas must fit this mould.) However, it seems overall more likely that the viewer is “supposed” to identify with and have empathy for Ben and Fiona.

As it ebbs and flows between being respectful of Indian culture; showing, not laughing, at wedding tradition one minute then having Fiona literally and figuratively try on a culture as she veils herself to dance in front of a hotel mirror the next; so too does it sway between being something of a decent drama and a somewhat xenophobic piece of trite. Not one that I’d really recommend, its flaws ultimately outweighing its merits, The Waiting City is a disappointment in the first instance and it verges on being an embarrassment in the second.

The Waiting City will be released in Australia on July 15 2010 through Hopscotch Films.

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