Introducing the Dwights

Cast:
Brenda Blethyn as Jean
Khan Chittenden as Tim
Richard Wilson as Mark
Emma Booth as Jill
Rebecca Gibney as Lana
Russell Dykstra as Shane
Katie Wall as Kelly
Philip Quast as Ronnie Stubbs
Frankie J. Holden as John
Tracie Sammut as Tori
Justin Martin as Brett
David Webb as Colin
Susan Kennedy as Sharon

Directed by Cherie Nowlan

Summary:
Brenda Blethyn is an utter delight as the nutty matriarch of this dysfunctional Aussie family in Cherie Nowlan’s surprisingly fresh take on the genre.

Story:
The Dwights are a dysfunctional family going through changes as divorced mother Jeannie Dwight (Brenda Blethyn) deals with pitfalls in her career as a performer and has to face the fact that her two sons Tim and Mark are ready to leave her nest as they each get involved with girls. Tim (Khan Chittenden) is a shy introverted boy who becomes involved with a pretty girl named Jill (Emma Booth), while his older mentally-challenged brother Mark is also looking to get out on his own.

Analysis:
When Cherie Nowlan’s second feature film played at the Sundance Film Festival, it was called “Clubland” and though its new title might seem like a strange change, it’s far more appropriate to the nature of the story and tone of the film than the film’s original somewhat generic title. On the surface, it’s yet another indie dramedy about a dysfunctional comedy that’s funny and charming one moment and dramatic the next, though the writing and acting elevate it far above its similar American counterparts.

The family mainly revolves around Brenda Blethyn’s Jeannie Dwight, a semi-alcoholic middle-aged entertainer who isn’t just unhappy about her career having hit a roadblock due to her dated material, but she feels like she’s also losing her sons as they start getting involved with girls a lot later than normal. Tim is a shy boy who has become used to traveling with his mother as she goes from club to club, often getting into her comedy act when necessary. When he meets the gorgeous blonde Jill and she seems to like him, it’s finally a chance for him to have a life away from his overprotective mother, not that she will give him the freedom to explore this highly sexual relationship. Tim’s mentally-challenged brother also spends a lot of time helping his mother with her material but he’s then locked in the house as she goes on the road with Tim, and he’s also feeling the need to explore and escape her clutches. Mark and Tim aren’t the only men in Jean’s life as she juggles her ex-husband, a has-been one hit wonder, and another amorous suitor from the entertainment biz. When Tim introduces his new girlfriend Jill, it disrupts the familiar patterns and rhythms enough that Jean feels she’s losing her son, and she immediately starts butting heads with the self-conscious young woman over Tim’s affection.

The gamut between Tim and Mark’s innocence and their mother’s raunchy foul-mouthed humor and entertainment biz eccentricities is constantly fascinating. It’s obvious that the boys love their mother and vice versa, but it’s just as easy to see how her overprotective and domineering nature has kept them from living their life and sowing the oats that young men often do. At times later in the movie, it goes a bit overboard on the drama as things sometimes do in these things, but for the most part, it’s light and funny as we adjust to each of the character’s personal foibles, and things rarely go in the direction one might expect.

Granted, this is very much Blethyn’s film, as she once again plays the kind of believable mother that you’ll either embrace or cringe at depending on your own upbringing. It’s sometimes hard to feel bad for her neediness, which causes her to interfere in Tim’s relationship with Jill and make it so difficult. Blethyn’s presence certainly adds to the way the film sometimes feels like one of Mike Leigh’s kitchen dramas, but it’s just as much a testament to Keith Thompson’s sharp script and Nowlan’s ability to let her talented ensemble cast play with the dialogue to create a natural and believable rapport between characters.

The three younger actors are quite a find with Richard Wilson giving an impressive portrayal of the autistic Mark. It’s the kind of character that can be annoying if not done right, but instead, Mark is charming and funny and very often steals the scene from other characters. You never feel as if the laughs are being at the expense of his disability, which tends to be the case when movies feature mentally challenged characters. Without knowing Emma Booth’s age—don’t want to get in trouble here—she’s another fine example of the sexy and talented actresses coming out of Australia, following closely behind Abbie Cornish, and both Booth and Khan Chittenden are young actors one will want to keep an eye on.

The Bottom Line:
“Introducing the Dwights” is a thoroughly enjoyable and charming film that will strike a chord with anyone who’s ever felt the need to get away from the strangling, constrictive strings of their mother’s apron to fly off on their own.

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