What do you get when you assemble a cast of distinguished stars who despite their best intentions, give their all to a hopeless dud of a movie? Possibly The Eye Of The Storm, sad to say. Even if based on the acclaimed 1973 bestseller by Australian novelist and Nobel Prize winner Patrick White.
And though coming clean here with the disclaimer that I never read the book, I also have a pretty good hunch that there are film critics out there who will gush with glowing reviews. Having likely mentally blurred the line substantially between the novel and the film.
Which by the way, owes its dubious screenwriting credit to Judy Morris, who in addition to this lavish period satire, likewise penned Happy Feet and Babe: Pig In The City. And the fact that she is an actress turned filmmaker as well should come as no surprise, as the movie plays out more like an episodic actors’ exercise in cartoonish dramatics, than a cohesive, narratively driven story.
Charlotte Rampling is Elizabeth Hunter in The Eye Of The Storm, a terminally ill, fabulously wealthy elderly shrew and lifelong nymphomaniac, currently confined to her deathbed at her sprawling suburban Sydney estate. Summoned to her bedside are her two less than doting adult children, whose primary motivation in turning up is money following mum’s demise.
Dorothy (Judy Davis), a divorcee who married into French royalty, is a nervous wreck still harboring an understandable grudge dating back to her youth, when the shameless matriarch stole her boyfriend. And foppish actor Basil (Geoffrey Rush) seems to have followed in mom’s footsteps as a serial seducer. A compulsive pastime which also tends to take the demoralizing edge off a steady stream of bad reviews for his theatrical performances. And don’t be surprised if Basil ends up doing Elizabeth’s nurse on duty (the director’s offspring, Alexandra Schepisi), who in turn hopes he’ll speedily impregnate her so she can muscle in on a cut of the inheritance too.
It’s a rare film that can elicit a favorable audience reaction when there isn’t a single likeable character in the bunch, and The Eye Of The Storm in no way qualifies as one of those. Among a cast of characters that ranges from pathetic and distasteful to outright odious, even if director Frank Schepisi intends us to be amused by their ludicrous behavior in a kind of Australian absurdist cinema of cruelty.
All of which amounts to the comparable experience of eavesdropping on annoying neighbors in your vicinity. Which unlike subjecting yourself to that similar ordeal in the real world, does not also entail the exorbitant price of a movie ticket for that disagreeable encounter.