IF you've ever wondered why consistently delightful TV star Garry
McDonald rarely graces the big screen, the answer is simple: he's been waiting
for a part as good as this one.
Struck By Lightning might be a diamond in the rough-it's certainly a
little rough around the edges-but it has the goods all right where riveting
acting and stomach-clutching jokes are concerned.
It's a daring film. It tackles the subject of Down's Syndrome as a
bitter-sweet comedy, not a drama. It also employs adults rather than the more
commercially viable, less personally confronting, handicapped children.
Struck By Lightning extracts universally memorable performances from the
entire cast, which is so skilfully mixed that it's near impossible to separate
the novice, intellectually handicapped adults from the experienced actors.
Even though it's of high standard, acting skill hardly matters here
because Struck By Lightning has something else which makes it terrific
entertainment. That's a genuine rapport between the actors, all the actors,
which gives the film a haunting sweetness impossible to manufacture.
Vriends plays Pat Cannizzaro, the gung-ho sports teacher. Bounced out of
one job, he applies to work in a sheltered workshop for Down's Syndrome adults,
run by the boozy, cynical Ollie Rennie (McDonald). Rennie is unimpressed by
Cannizzaro's enthusiasm and even less so when his assistant tries to chat up
feisty social worker Jill McHugh (McClements).
The character of Rennie is one of the best ever for the popular TV star of
Mother And Son and The Norman Gunston Show. McDonald is brilliant at deftly
alternating between gasp-worthy sarcastic one-liners and poignant but not flaky
drama. (When Rennie finally admits to personal feelings, he tells Cannizzaro
that, "You've got the only two things I want: Jill and hair.")
The inventiveness and the cool daring of the humour is the mark of a
first-class scriptwriter. Struck By Lightning has him. Trevor Farrant has
polished his humour on hit Australian shows like Fast Forward and The Norman
Gunston Show, and American TV classics like MASH and Taxi.
The level of sophistication reveals itself more in comic confidence than
in tricky cleverness.
It's impossible to dim the overall sweetness of the film. More than any
other homegrown film this year (except possibly New Zealand director Jane
Campion's An Angel At My Table), Struck By Lightning manages to touch without
preaching, involve without cliches and make its point but still finish on a
gloriously original, upbeat note.