Now Add Honey (2015)
Take one dysfunctional family …
Back in 1985, calling attention to gender inequality within works of fiction — manly film — American cartoonist Alison Bechdel created the Bechdel test, a test which first appeared in the comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For, in an installment titled The Rule; though this examination became more widely spread later down the line, within the 2000s. To successfully pass this indicator, the Bechdel test states that a film must satisfy the following criteria: a movie should feature at least two women who talk to one another about something other than a man. Australian writer-producer Robyn Butler’s latest flick, Now Add Honey, directed by Butler’s husband Wayne Hope, pretty much checks all the right boxes when scrutinized under the Bechdel test, as this family comedy celebrates women and girls for who they are and who they want to be.
The initial premise of Now Add Honey is attention-grabbing enough, as it tells a fish-out-of-water story of Honey Halloway (Lucy Fry), a rich, famous and talented teenage Hollywood starlet, who is forced to live with her middling, run-of-the-mill auntie, uncle and cousins, the Morgan’s, when a family gathering goes awry. Despite its affable intentions however, Now Add Honey is weighed down far too often, suffocating beneath an overkill of contrived slapstick set pieces, unfunny situations and implausible characters shoehorned into the storyline, elements which frantically and desperately wrestle for precious screen time. Furthermore, the familiar motif of an outsider crashing in on an ordinary family — and inevitably changing the dynamic — is also not compelling enough in its execution.
Caroline Morgan (Robyn Butler) is utterly delighted when her sister, Beth Halloway (Portia de Rossi), brings her movie star daughter, Honey Halloway (Lucy Fry), home to Melbourne, Australia, for a visit. But when Beth is suddenly seized and committed to rehab — suffering from a painkiller addiction — Caroline is forced to have Honey move into her suburban home. Of course, Honey struggles with normality as her entourage is sent back to Los Angeles, while her cousins, Clare (Philippa Coulthard) and Harriet (Lucinda Armstrong Hall), try their best to cope with a prima donna who hogs the bathroom. All the while, when Honey leads Caroline to discover a shattering family secret, everything around the middle-aged matriarch quickly implodes and begins to fall apart. Trapped together in one small house, a woman in the midst of a midlife crisis — attempting to come to grips with her new life — and a precocious pop-star diva — left to fend for herself, out in the big bad world for the very first time — must each grapple with their own identity, though they are going to need one another in order to find their true selves.
Following on from her first-rate work with hubby Wayne Hope — the pair having collaborated on several small screen series such as Upper Middle Bogan (2013) and The Librarians (2007) — Robyn Butler is generally passable as Caroline Morgan, a dedicated mother, sharp lawyer and the glue that holds the Morgan brood together, reprising her ‘usual’ tightly-wound persona. Butler’s sheer talent alone could carry this project, she gets some great lines and solid comedic moments here and there, but ultimately most of her good work is undone by the unlikely and unpleasant bunch of bafoons that surround her, making it difficult to get behind Caroline and her plight. Portia de Rossi — best known as Nelle Porter from television’s Ally McBeal (1997) — overplays Beth Halloway, Caroline’s troubled sister, who’s more of a ‘stage mum’ to Honey than a caring motherly figure, with Beth’s substance-abusing storyline coming across as overly forced and far-fetched, whereas Beth’s bombshell daughter Honey, played by Lucy Fry, Vampire Academy (2014), is simply way too exaggerated and artificial to elicit any sort of empathy from the audience — at least Fry looks fabulous in her fictional Jessica Simpson-esque music video (which we sadly never get to see in its entirety). On the flip side, Philippa Coulthard, After the Dark (2013), brings some authenticity to her role as Clare Morgan, Caroline’s angsty sixteen-year old daughter — who doesn’t idolize her famed cousin like everyone else — nicely counterbalancing Honey’s hyper-realism (and sheer ridiculousness) with her natural and grounded rendering.
When it comes to the male players who occupy the frame, the actors involved deliver a mixed bag of performances. Hamish Blake — a popular Australian comedian and star of his very own show, Hamish & Andy’s Gap Year (2011) — more or less steals his scenes as Alex Kilstein, a qualified Veterinarian who suffers from a serious case of ‘foot in mouth disease;’ his adoring ﬁancé Katie — Caroline and Beth’s younger sister — played by a so-so Lucy Durack (who, as it turns out, also works as a Vet) bounces well off funny-man Hamish Blake, with the pair sharing a fun and lively on-screen connection. While Blake is no doubt amusing, he doesn’t even try to ‘play the part’ in his big-screen debut, and pretty much ends up impersonating himself. New Zealander Robbie Magasiva, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002), plays television celebrity chef Sebastian Tasi, who supplies a few of the flick’s cheekier moments, enjoying some playful chemistry with co-star Butler, while a satisfying Erik Thomson, The Black Balloon (2008), gives the picture a certain weightiness — albeit unneeded — as Richard Morgan, Caroline’s flustered husband who works as a self-help author and sleeps in the spare room — if that’s not the first sign of marital problems, I don’t know what is?
Elsewhere we have a couple of redundant side players vying for attention, characters who operate as the flick’s antagonists — both are roles that Now Add Honey could have definitely done without. First up there’s the insufferable Joshua Redlich — played by Aussie actor Ben Lawson, No Strings Attached (2011), his lousy attempt at putting on an American accent being one of the most forced and phony I’ve heard to date — a formulaic money hungry Hollywood producer who owns Honey’s movie franchise, Monkey Girl; this dawdler’s been so feebly squeezed into proceedings that his inclusion literally derails the flick’s mushy ‘girl power’ slant, with most of his scenes playing out in front of a poorly realized LA, via some shoddy green-screen work. Finally, we have Angus Sampson, Insidious (2010), who comes off as a last-minute name drop, playing an unfunny cash strapped paparazzi photographer, Mick Croyston — a guy whose moral compass is way off track — wanting to take nude snaps of the sixteen-year-old Honey; on a side note, this whole side plot is highly improbable, as a rising teen star attempting to re-launch herself as a global music sensation would never stoop to such an extreme (an exposing photo shoot) so early on in her career. In any case, when the wacky climax ensues — involving a mishmash of characters who race against the clock to stop Honey from posing in her birthday suit — Now Add Honey well and truly gives way, collapsing in on itself, spiraling on a downwards dip from which it never fully recovers. But hey, at least the flick looks decent — thanks to cinematographer Ben Nott, Predestination (2013) and production designer Penelope Southgate, BoyTown (2006) — even if it does sport a sitcom aesthetic over and above anything cinematic; this is probably brought about by husband-and-wife duo Hope and Butler, who seem too reliant on television network shortcuts, evident in all facets of production.
Posing the question of audience, who is this film made for? As a screwball comedy it simply just doesn’t cut it, as Now Add Honey isn’t zany or humorous enough to charm. Could it be targeted towards teenage girls and their mothers? Perhaps? Even so, if it were trying to please this early female demographic, its bursts of exploitation and evasive sexual innuendo suggest otherwise. Ultimately, by design, the flick’s cheery spirit and broad gags entail family entertainment, though its many ‘adult themes,’ and an overt message about the media’s mistreatment of adolescent women, could be way too heavy for youngsters. Sadly, for a film that boasts female empowerment, the extraneous often-muddled narrative and many colliding plot lines, to some extent, compromise its tone.
Despite having a clever title, Now Add Honey never quite lives up to its potential or the promised dramatic material set up in its opening act; wasn’t this supposed to be a breezy comedy about a dysfunctional family trying to get along? By its sub-standard conclusion, the entire experiment winds up being a bit of a mess — and somewhat of a letdown if you ask me, especially considering the filmmakers’ formidable credentials and the home-grown talent involved here — with one too many hollow ‘cookie cutter’ characters competing over a tangled web of storylines, none of which appear to be satisfactorily resolved or executed. When all is said and done, Now Add Honey may have passed the Bechdel test with flying colors, but this single dab of honey just isn’t enough to sweeten a mostly sour affair.
2 / 5 – Average
Reviewed by S-Littner
Now Add Honey is released through Roadshow Entertainment Australia