The Castle

on May 07, 1999 by Ray Greene
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   A goofily enjoyable low budget comedy from down under, "The Castle" was the source of a great deal of notoriety when it was acquired by Miramax Films for some $6 million during last year's Sundance Film Festival. That level of financial attention would have attracted notice under any circumstances, particularly given "The Castle's" rumored $19,000 production cost. But the big irony behind the big price tag was the fact that "The Castle," which was already a major sleeper success story in its home country of Australia, had been on the market for months and had reportedly been passed over by every major American indie distributor on the grounds that its milieu was just too provincial.
   According to Miramax chief Harvey Weinstein, it was the audience reaction to this heartwarming oddity that convinced him to reconsider. And it's easy to see how a sly, offbeat film like "The Castle" would have gotten a rousing reception at Sundance, particularly given the general trend of most comedies screened at the festival to be heavily laden with irony and/or romantic anguish.
   Irony is the last thing on "The Castle's" mind. The story of a closely-knit if idiosyncratic blue-collar Australian family and their struggle to keep their home from being devoured by an airport expansion, "The Castle" gets a lot of comedic mileage out of the exaggerated foibles of the Aussie working class.
   Darryl Kerrigan (Michael Caton) is a tow-truck driver who lives for his family. He's an enthusiastic booster for his wife's folk art pottery proclivities, and he celebrates every meal she makes with a prose poem to the joys of her cooking. His love of his home life is reflected in the fact that he's constantly coming up with half-finished expansion plans for the Kerrigan house, which he calls "the Castle." When the airport next door attempts to drive out every homeowner in the neighborhood to make way for a new runway, Darryl, whose naive belief in the justice of his cause is absolute, mounts an oddball legal campaign to preserve his way of life.
   It's instructive to compare "The Castle" to a similarly constructed American counterpart like either of "The Brady Bunch" movies. Where the "Brady" features get most of their humor from sarcasm and format jokes directed against the dreaded fashions and customs of the 1970s, "The Castle" envelops its fictional family in a loving if knowing embrace. The simple-minded Kerrigans may be fools to their creators, but they are holy fools-repositories of values and priorities which the film both endorses and celebrates. And the flawless comedic performances of the entire cast--most of which, along with "The Castle's" writers and director Rob Sitch, are veterans of a popular Australian comedy show called "Frontline"--go a long way toward making the viewer forget about production values and photography that are at times just a little too ragged.
   Though Miramax definitely has a marketing challenge on its hands, "The Castle" will be a worthwhile discovery for fans of offbeat humor. The cruelty that perhaps too often informs American attempts at levity has been banished from "The Castle." Beneath this film's perfectly modulated deadpan delivery beats a sincere and affectionate heart. Starring Michael Caton, Anne Tenney and Stephen Curry. Directed by Rob Sitch. Written by Rob Sitch, Jane Kennedy, Tom Gleisner and Santo Cilauro. Produced by Debra Choate. A Miramax release. Comedy. Rated R for language. Running time: 82 min
Tags: Starring Michael Caton, Anne Tenney, Stephen Curry, Directed by Rob Sitch. Written by Rob Sitch, Jane Kennedy, Tom Gleisner, Santo Cilauro, Produced by Debra Choate, Miramax, Comedy
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