Three Summers (2017)
There’s Something Funny About This Festival
A folk music festival set in Western Australian seems to be an odd backdrop for filmmaker Ben Elton’s latest ensemble piece, Three Summers. Although born and bread in the U.K., Elton — a writer on shows such as The Young Ones (1982-84) and Blackadder (1983-89) — married Aussie gal Sophie Gare in 1994, eventually attaining his duel citizenship. Throughout his time in the land down under, Elton became a regular at the Fairbridge Music Festival in Pinjarra, WA, where he noticed that, year in and year out, things would remain very much the same — the tents, the clientele and the aging headline bands — bar that cute kid who’d now become a brooding Goth. This unique setting became the inspiration for Three Summers, which captures that distinct country festival vibe, where contrasting individuals congregate year after year to enjoy the music, companionship and atmosphere.
Three Summers takes place over the time span of three years and is set at the (fictitious) annual Westifal music festival in WA, where hundreds of multicultural people gather every summer to have a ‘folking good time.’ One of the event’s regular outfits is pub rock band The WArrikins, an Irish group fronted by a free-spirited twentysomething fiddle-player named Keevey (Rebecca Breeds, who resembles a young Toni Pearen) and her hard-drinking father Eamon (John Waters). Attending Westifal for the very first time is theremin player Roland (Robert Sheehan), a tech-savvy know-it-all who washes dogs for a living. Roland and Keevey hit it off at their meet cute, despite having opposing views — he’s an advocate of digital, she avoids technology when she can — until Roland takes a jab at her group The WArrikins, the pair’s would-be relationship basically surveyed over the next few Westifal gatherings.
Even though Roland and Keevey’s star-crossed lovers take center stage, writer-director Elton uses Westifal — a community with a common interest (in folk music) — to reflect on Australia’s past and comment on the present, this via an array of wacky festival attendees. No stranger to mixing comedy with political observations, Elton looks at contemporary issues/ several uncomfortable truths concerning racism, immigration, alcoholism and Aboriginal reconciliation, whilst dropping hints about accepting those who are different, Three Summers offering light entertainment with some hefty food for thought.
Celebrated Aussie actor Michael Caton, The Castle (1997), portrays Henry, a widowed Morris dancer who’s still feeling the sting of his forced migration, Henry constantly telling his granddaughter, Ruby (Nichola Balestri), that ‘being Australian’ is a privilege one must be earn. Caton’s ex-serviceman ultimately butts heads with the leader of a local indigenous dance troupe, Jack (Kelton Pell), who vocalizes his thoughts regarding the country’s lack of recognition towards the Indigenous lives that were lost during Australia’s colonization. There’s also a sub-plot about a fostered Afghanistan refugee, Jafaar (Amay Jain), who’s coming to grips with his new surroundings and befriending kids his own age, this thread culminating in a passionate performance by a band made up of asylum seekers. Let’s not forget about the very funny hippy songstress Diamond (Adriane Daff), who opens the celebration every year with a brutally progressive revision of an old Australian classic, be it Waltzing Matilda or Kookaburra Sits in the Old Gum Tree.
Eton’s second film as director, Three Summers isn’t without its faults. For one, not every gag in this episodic rom-com works, the flick clearly trying to squeeze too much into its 95-minute run time. There’s a C-plot that centers on a punk girl band called Feminasty that feels very much tacked on, while Christiaan Van Vuuren and Nick Boshier (from Bondi Hipsters) are wasted in a couple of amusing yet short cameos as Keevey’s would-be suitors. Just on that, we’re also supposed to believe that Keevey is a Luddite who doesn’t own a computer but still uses Tinder. Really? Other plot contrivances are too far-fetched, chiefly the stuff about the success of Roland’s iffy dog-barking theremin combo.
Thankfully, the film’s toe tappin’ soundtrack — featuring the likes of John Butler Trio, Birds of Tokyo, Little Birdy, Gotye and Sarah Blasko — is pretty spiffy, while the bright, vibrant cinematography by Katie Milwright, Looking for Grace (2015), captures that distinct celebratory ocker flavor, along with Australia’s South Western splendor — several of the aerial shots, a real beaut, too.
Of the exhaustive cast, a handful manages to shine. Magda Szubanski, Babe (1995), is excellent as community radio superstar Queenie, the face, voice and conscience of Westifal, while Kate Box, The Little Death (2014), steals most of her scenes as Linda, an overzealous security guard who polices the event with an iron fist. Peter Rowsthorn, Kath & Kim (2002-07), stands out in a quartet of middle-aged couples who meet every year at the festival to eat, chat, and drink wine between their parallel-parked VW campers, the foursome never actually venturing out to experience any of the surrounding activities. Jacqueline McKenzie, Deep Blue Sea (1999), has a small part as a snooty music professor, while Deborah Mailman, Paper Planes (2014), is pretty forgettable as AA counselor Pam. In terms of protagonists, Robert Sheehan, Misfits (2009–13), can be a bit grating as the hipster braggart Roland, so it’s Home and Away’s Rebecca Breeds who elevates the duo’s dynamic, her sheer adorability and grounded charm truly anchoring the pic.
Although Three Summers won’t be regarded as an all-time Aussie classic — think The Castle (1997) or Kenny (2006) — it’s still a highly enjoyable satirical romp, one that urges viewers to embrace Australia’s diversity and, perhaps, try to see the world through a different lens. So, grab yourself some refreshments and prepare to get folked up!
3.5 / 5 – Great
Reviewed by Mr. Movie