There may be an absurdist nihilism of kinds on the heart of “Friends and Strangers,” an obscure satire whose broad title aptly fits its array of generic characters: younger, higher center class Australians feeling their means via the world with both a shrug or over labored ideas that don’t add as much as a lot, however, are intriguing of their detachedness anyway.
This description isn’t essentially a whole knock on James Vaughan’s tonally blended journey; extra precisely, cinematic experiment propelled by the filmmaker’s indulgently private preoccupations. So if Whit Stillman’s deadpan model is your factor or if you happen to (hopefully) see Michelle Morgan’s “It Occurred In L.A.” and appreciated the acuity of its slack LA-ness, then the very Australian “Friends and Strangers” is likely to be in your wheelhouse. A minimum of partially, since Vaughan’s film neither reveals the razor-sharp instincts of Stillman (it’s not humorous sufficient, for starters) nor feels as assured a press release as Morgan’s city parody. In different phrases, this ambiguously humorous movie with a shaky tempo and viewpoint units forth a tricky proposition: will you be an affected person for its 80+ minutes of working time, settle for that nothing a lot will really occur all through that period and accept occasional jolts of rewards solely?
Essentially the most important of these rewards is the movie’s cumulatively hypnotic aura, one that may be in comparison with a concerned dialog you possibly can’t assist however eavesdrop on at a busy restaurant whereas eating solo—even if you happen to can’t comply with all the small print or the gamers which might be being talked about, it’s one thing of a fascinating pastime. A further incentive is Emma Diaz, who obliquely brings to thoughts a youthful Keira Knightley together with her Alice. She is whom the 20-something videographer Ray (Fergus Wilson) meets sooner or later in Sydney, and earlier than you recognize it, the 2 discover themselves on a tenting journey collectively.
Is there romantic chemistry between them? Has one acted too presumptuously ahead, and the opposite, too imprecise? Actually, due to the movie’s uncompromising dedication to a sure impassiveness, it’s anybody’s guess (together with the viewers making an attempt to decipher it). The opposite pronounced occurring throughout their journey is a little more spelled out and thus, extra pleasant. It entails the duo assembly a widowed man and his daughter, who unsentimentally provides away attire that used to belong to her late mom, to Alice. (That is simply how aloof everybody on this film appears.)
Simply once we really feel settled into some kind of story, “Pal and Strangers” jumps ahead in time after this episode, persevering with to trace Ray on his videography ventures. We comply with him and a pal of his on a rich seaside city full of beautiful actual property as they make their strategy to a villa to a movie an upcoming marriage ceremony. To his credit score, Vaughan faucets into some unease within the air naturally and critiques possessors of utmost wealth with some aptitude and wit. However, this proves to be a short-lived achievement. Quickly sufficient, a screechy tune harking back to Jonny Greenwood’s “There Will Be Blood” rating kicks in deafeningly, obliterating any refinement the filmmaker had seized till then. Worse, the suggestive music doesn’t yield to something consequential, with the strain it introduces petering out very quickly.
The identical factor may very well be stated about Vaughn’s insistent prompts (beginning as early because of the unsubtle movie’s animated opening credit) that try to attract consideration to Australia’s colonialist historical past. He makes an attempt to replicate on the land he shoots stay as simply that: makes an attempt, that really feel painfully underbaked. In that regard, “Friends and Strangers” typically really feel just like the impression of one thing quite than the totally fleshed-out factor itself. There may be absolutely some attraction in that impression, but it surely solely barely sustains this cold-to-the-touch function that toggles between inviting and alienating all too incessantly.