Running Time: 88 mins
The Honourable Wally Norman is an Ealing-style Australian comedy in the tradition of The Castle and The Dish. The track record of those involved in the making of this film is impressive. Ted Emery's credits include Fast Forward, Kath & Kim, and The Craic, while Jonathan Shteinman is the producer of Angel Baby. Yet this satire of Australian politics and its close ties to big business lacks bite, and isn't as funny as it could be.
Kevin Harrington (SeaChange, The Dish) plays Wally Norman, a retrenched meatworker from the bush with a loyal and supportive family, who by accident finds himself running for federal parliament on behalf of alienated country workers.
As a candidate for the Australian People's Party, Wally's election campaign is to be run by Willy Norman (Alan Cassell), a smarmy parliamentary hopeful who neglects to tell Wally that he's a candidate for the House of Reps only by default. Instead, Wally, who has a phobia about speaking in public, puts his trust in Willy who connives with Ken Oates (Shaun Micallef), the silver-tailed sitting member for the Total People Party, to bring about Wally's downfall to his and the dastardly Oates' pecuniary and political advantage.
There are certainly moments to enjoy in this tale about the Aussie battler from the bush who manages to beat the system with a little help from his family, friends (sacked co-workers at the meat factory), and the family goat. The cast is top-drawer, and its hard to fault the sincerity of the acting, particularly Cassell, newcomers Nathaniel Davison (as Wally's honest assistant) and Melissa Madden Gray (a flighty Tv journo), and Micalleff, whose brilliant send-up of election commercials ('You know an Oats has fought in every war since the Himalayan emergency...') is a highlight.
But somewhere between the film's original concept, its umpteenth rewrite, and its translation to the screen, something has been lost.
There's a compelling congruence between the film's storyline about massed sackings and the 'stealing' of workers entitlements, and today's headlines about the top end of town (or country) enjoying 'executive salaries' at the expense of those at the bottom. But compared to such robust satires of the past such as I'm All Right Jack and Dr Strangelove: How I Learnt to Love the Bomb and Stop Worrying, The Honourable Wally Norman appears to lack the courage of its convictions. Perhaps through fear of offending, it falls between the stools of satire and humanist comedy, and as a consequence appears tired and predictable.
Jan Epstein is an Associate of the Australian Catholic Film Office.