The Switchblade Sisterhood is one part RomCom and another part serious tragedy. A very Australian thing to do, according to writer/director Davo Hardy, the differing emotions definitely toss the viewer about. Possibly a little off for us here in America, the mood swing is manageable for sure. The problem is one story pleases and the other falls a bit short of making up the whole.
The film begins on a traverse through an Australian suburb, and the upbeat country song sounds like we are going to soar. On the bike is Breanna (British Flower) – no way her wings are going to be clipped, and the same probably goes for everyone else.
Of course, real life intervenes, and we will soon learn that her mother recently died. Nonetheless, she’s ready to re-engage and move on from the grieving stage.
Seemingly unrelated, we meet Lacey (Catherine Tomsen). In the hospital, the young woman is in for some tests, and the tragedy begins. She finds out that her mom is not actually her mother and leaves little wiggle room for Vanessa (Rochelle Edson) to explain herself. “This morning I thought I had a mother.”
The hospital visit in the rearview, Tomsen transforms. She makes us feel the weight of the betrayal and seethes like all the pent up irrational angst of childhood has been suddenly released. Mom can only take the blows and Edson wears the guilt like an anchor that can never be lifted.
Dad (David Charles Collins) is next, he’s got some submerged lava of his own, and the truth out, he does not cower like his wife. No interest in biology 101, Collins explodes like the conundrum is really happening to him. “In case you have any wild ideas, this is your real family. . . and I am your father, don’t you ever forget it.”
Lacey demands the actual story anyway and gets it in person. A love quadrilateral of sorts in a more submissive time, we meet Martin, and how he was entangled with Vanessa and Dean.
The fourth wheel is Sophia. She was the departed mother being mourned by Breanna, was influenced by a feminist handbook called The SCUM Manifesto, and was at one point a prostitute. That said, the story is actually very heartfelt – despite the freewheeling, grimy sexual revolution undertones of the era.
Unfortunately, the seeds of the problem in this part of the story have already emerged. Dean is addicted to sniffing petro and aerosol, and while his addiction and attitude do produce some very amusingly piercing digs, there is very little to like about the character. Bound to a wheelchair, he’s an angry, selfish, ungrateful dependent, and summoning empathy from the viewer is a very hard ask. This especially when the family drama goes to an even higher level, and he’s the one who is mostly impacted.
Martin (Seaton Kay-Smith) is almost the exact opposite, and the flip side of the coin makes him no more likable. He’s a tarot card reading, free spirit who has no shortage of pseudo Eastern philosophy to address the complexities of life. No doubt sincere, this hippie needs some teeth, because the demeanor kind of grates and makes us care less about the overall drama.
Not a function of the acting, Collins and Kay-Smith deliver the characters the way the story demands. As a result, you’e almost rooting for their demise.
Still, the events keep us engaged, and Lacey’s anger is no different. All the explanations and revelations are little comfort, and the upheaval for her doesn’t recede.
Breanna is much more amenable to the situation, but her trajectory also changes. She gets immersed in the SCUM and is now armed with plenty of reactionary talking points on gender equality.
The sisterhood on full display, Flower bubbles over with the gene for rage too, and would have any smart man running for cover. That is unless you are Jonathan (Kieran Hudson).
They meet at his 21st birthday party, and she’s actually taken when he innocently serenades her. Unfortunately, Breanna walks in on a conversation he is having on country music and feminism and decides that the privileged hetero, white male is appropriating the struggles of women.
Up to the task, Hudson makes us feel like he’s confronted this type of bullying before. The actor’s confident delivery humorously punches holes in Breanna’s self righteous woke-ness and leaves her fuming.
So effectively, the writing is on the wall. These two are going to fall in love, and even though you can see it a mile away, the development and evolution of their relationship is very pleasing. Alongside, the country music anthems continue the flight plan that brought us into the story and bodes well for anyone who believes.
They do need some obstacles, though, and Jonathan’s parents suffice as a not so severe diversion. The father (Martin Cohen) is running some sort of scam that relates to transportation and corrupt politicians, and Cohen effortlessly carries himself like he has the full blessing of the Governor General.
From there, Mom (Karli Evans) is the real problem. She exudes entitlement despite the source of the ill gotten gains, and Evans peddles haughtiness like she has cornered the market. Of course, Breanna the waitress obviously does not measure up to her golden boy, and the comedic set up plays like two universes on a collision course.
All good things, it’s back to the grind of the tragedy. Off the rails we go and having Martin try to make sense of the extremes doesn’t help. So when the two stories dovetail, they don’t sync up so seamlessly. But at least Jonathan and Breanna are on the same page and prove that an apple pie ending works in Australia too.