The story itself is a fairly flimsy excuse for stringing the musical numbers together. Set in 1969, aboriginal student and head boy Willie Johnson (newcomer Rocky McKenzie) runs away from boarding school in Perth, back home to his devoutly Christian mother Theresa (“not the Mother Teresa”) and would be girlfriend Rosie (Jessica Mauboy), in Broome, the far north west of Australia. Along the way they collect hippy tourists, Wolfgang (Tom Budge) and Annie (Missy Higgins); the homeless Tadpole (Ernie Dingo); Kimberley girl Roxanne (Deborah Mailman); and steal from Roadhouse Betty (Magda Szubanski). They are pursued by head teacher Father Benedictus (Geoffrey Rush) up the highway as he seeks to return Willie to school.
They all meet on the beach in Broome where family relationships are reconnected and restored.
The highlights of the film, without question, are the show tunes. Drawing on the popular stageshow of the same name, the songs are a mixture of 50s rock, show tunes, Negro spirituals, country & western and one Zorba inspired accordion backing to a traditional Aboriginal dance. Casting Mauboy and Higgins ensures that the numbers they are a part of are performed consummately. The other professional actors sing capably and in between times enjoy their comic byplay with each other.
The desert scapes are beautifully shot by Andrew Lesnie making the most of the unique colours of the Australian bush: the deep turquoise of the waterhole, sunburnt orange of the desert sand, the clean white robes of the gospel choir and so on.
The musical high point for me was the breakout, tapdancing
“There is nothing I would rather beby Willie and the boarding house boys, just as they were to feel the full weight of Father Benedictus’ ‘Thou Shalt Not Steal’ smacking stick.
than to be an Aborigine”
Director Rachel Perkins previous credits include the acclaimed TV series First Australians and the Paul Kelly musical, One Night the Moon.
This film was great fun and a great way to finish the Festival.