Aussie actress Judy Davis is a marvelously quirky and forceful star, but her offbeat rhythms must drive casting agents crazy.
In Hollywood pictures like "Blood & Wine" and "Absolute Power," she is so wildly miscast that she lends unintentional moments of camp. But when she's cast well, as in "Impromptu" or "The Ref" or "Husbands and Wives" or even way back to her earliest film success, the Australian film "My Brilliant Career" she can be fabulous.
Such is the case with her latest, "Children of the Revolution," a witty, nutty satire that is as quirky as Davis. The film also has big scenes with heady, goofy dialogue that Davis, as usual, attacks at full boar. It's a perfect fit of performer and material.
She plays Joan Fraser, a rebel without a clue who embraces communism in 1949 Australia to such a degree that she single-handedly drives the local party affiliation. Even Joan's sort-of boyfriend and confidant, Zachery Welch (Geoffrey Rush, fresh off his Oscar-win for "Shine") only attends the meetings because he wants to be near her.
The plot kicks into gear when Joan gets an unexpected response to the fan mail she writes in broken Russian to Josef Stalin (F. Murray Abraham). He invites her for a visit, ostensibly as a representative of Australia's Communist Party. But in truth, he's looking for one more conquest in his waning years.
The result of this tryst is a pregnancy, which sends Joan back to Australia, where she marries poor Welch
and over the years indoctrinates her young son in the ways of communism. When he grows to adulthood, the hapless Joe (Richard Roxburgh), through a series of convoluted events, finds himself rising in political power until he eventually begins ruling Australia with a facist fist. Along the way, he also finds kinky love with a female cop (Rachel Griffiths), who has an unexpected connection to his circumstances.
The film's overused device of unfolding the events in mock-documentary style notwithstanding, this is fresh and frequently funny stuff, with a number of laugh-out-loud gags. The latter range from off-the-wall moments, such as three Stalin minions (including Khruschev) singing and dancing in a minichorus line at the Kremlin, to Davis' unswayed, narrow views as she bullies her way through life.
Writer-director Peter Duncan has an open and amusing view of Australia's place in world politics early in the film someone says, "Never underestimate Australians they're not as silly as they sound." And he has given Davis some wonderful political speeches, which she delivers in her own peculiarly hilarious manner.
Some of the bits of business here are too broadly played, and there is a draggy sequence in the middle, but the film benefits greatly from Roxburgh, Griffiths and Abraham, as well as Sam Neill, playing a spy who comes in and out of Joan's life, and especially Rush, whose low-key reactions to Davis' exploits are hysterical.
But make no mistake. This is Davis' film, and she runs with it.
"Children of the Revolution" is rated R for violence, profanity, sex and nudity.