Play It Safe (2015)

Welcome to the real world.

In Melbourne, Australia, Jamie (Nicholas Kato) is a somewhat reclusive 26-year-old musician, who’s forced to reconsider his life after his funk-rock band Propaganda Machine break up following a lackluster tour and mounting debts. Pressured by his straight-talking father (Clayton Jacobson), Jamie takes up a teaching job at a music college, where he begins a relationship with the school’s secretary Chloe (Christine Lui) and he attempts to unravel what he really wants out of life.

It has taken five years for director Chris Pahlow to complete and release his feature film debut, which was partially crowd-funded in post-production. It’s obvious that this project is a labor of love, as Pahlow — a self-described ‘failed musician’ — has incorporated many of his own personal experiences into the film while allowing and encouraging the cast — with the likes of Maya Aleksandra, Kane Felsinger and Christina Kato — to treat the script as a base from which to edit and improvise in rehearsals.

Coffee has bean the grounds of many a heated and strong discussion.
Coffee has bean the grounds of many a heated and strong discussion.

The resulting picture is a compelling slice of life, wearing its mumblecore roots on its sleeves, with naturalistic performances by an able cast with all the awkward pauses and candor of 20-somethings, intimate black and white cinematography by Sherwin Akbarzadeh and Jaque Fisher and smooth, unobtrusive editing by Raechel Harding. Music by Nathan Liow, mixed with Melbournian electronica adds to the atmosphere — a performance by Jamie’s band Propaganda Machine being a particular highlight.

Play It Safe perfectly captures what some have called the ‘quarter life crisis’ — the years of great uncertainty between young adulthood, a time of university and experimentation, and the certified adulthood of ‘settling down’ with a partner, a mortgage and a lifetime job or career.

Contrary to how this may sound, our protagonist Jamie isn’t a slouch or an unmotivated guy; he’s just trying to work out his options and needs, while trialing what’s available. As a result, what could’ve been a stagnant narrative isn’t; Play It Safe doesn’t bore nor outstay its welcome, running at a brisk 85 minutes, the flick still captures a sense of intimacy — it really feels as though we’ve known these characters for much longer.

On the characters, special mention goes to Jamie’s housemate, Jefferson, played by Canadian comedian Alasdair Tremblay-Birchall, who exhibits a warm and funny presence particularly when juxtaposed against the more dramatic proceedings, while teenager Spencer Gigacz is an interesting foil as one of Jamie’s music students, also named Spencer.

‘Everything’s been so black and white lately ... ’
‘Everything’s been so black and white lately … ’

It’s great to see an Australia that I — and many others for that matter — can relate to, with multicultural characters, urban environments and an overall tone that isn’t depressive, but contemplative. The last film to tackle similar territory (that comes to mind) would have to be Any Questions for Ben? (2012), also set and shot around Melbourne, dealing with life in the 20s. We just aren’t making these kinds of movies anymore.

I have to applaud the Lido, Classic and Cameo cinemas for giving this little flick a chance to be seen on the big screen over the last couple of weeks (in Melbourne, Australia) and I sincerely wish the picture well at film festivals. I also look forward to what filmmaker Chris Pahlow does next — here’s hoping it’s not a long wait.

3 / 5 – Good

Reviewed by Steve Ramsie

For more information on Play It Safe, check out the official website!