With all the bland and boring romantic comedies out there, a little eccentricity isn't necessarily a bad thing. Just look what having oddball characters and situations did for "As Good As It Gets" and "Addicted to Love."

However, the characters in "Love Serenade," a quirky and dark romantic comedy from first-time writer/director Shirley Barrett, are so weird that they're virtually unlikable.

Even weirder is the fact that the film won the Camera d'Or award at the 1997 Cannes Film Festival, given to the best first film — which makes you wonder what the other movie debuts were like.

Still, the movie does feature two stellar performances — Miranda Otto's starring role as Dimity Hurley, a shy and frumpy 20-year-old waitress, and a scene-stealing turn from John Alansu as her nudist restaurateur boss, Albert Lee.

Dimity and her older beautician sister Vicki-Ann (Rebecca Frith) live in Sunray, a small Australian town that's pretty short on boyfriend material. Needless to say, they're both pretty excited when the otherwise unattractive 40-something Ken Sherry (George Shevtsov) moves in next door.

The man-hungry Vicki-Ann quickly tries to win the newcomer's affection by making him casseroles and stews, while Dimity attempts to woo him with sex — both with mixed results.

But Ken definitely isn't looking for another relationship. Though he lets the two ease his loneliness, sexually, he keeps them both at arm's length.

As mentioned, Otto — an Australian stage actress who made her film debut with the film — is terrific at conveying Dimity's shyness and vulnerability quite convincingly. And Alansu makes Albert so interesting that you might wish the movie had been about him instead.

But Frith's performance is too forced, and Shevtsov's delivery is monotone and boring (his lack of charisma makes it hard to believe that he could be a revered radio personality).

It doesn't help that Barrett's direction is so heavy-handed in places — having a tea kettle start whistling as Vicki-Ann's temper begins to boil isn't exactly subtle.

"Love Serenade" is rated R for sex, vulgar double-entendres and references, brief female nudity, profanity and violence.