In Garage Days, the age-old truth is proven yet again:
People fighting while wearing plush mascot suits will never
cease to be funny. But it also proves something else: Sometimes
directors just need to stick to what they’re good at.
Alex Proyas, the director of those dark, artful fantasy
films The Crow and Dark City (and the upcoming
I, Robot), finds himself completely off-base with Garage
Days, a light-as-air Australian ensemble comedy about
a group of 20-somethings whose greatest dream is to get their
garage band off the ground with a stage appearance. He seems
to be going for something akin to a warm, cuddly version of
Trainspotting, but what he ends up with is something
that looks like something trying to be a warm, cuddly
version of Trainspotting. Garage Days has no
vision of its own. It’s like Proyas made a movie that wants
to be no more than what people expect out of rock comedies.
Each character is defined by his or her role in the band,
and acts accordingly. The ups they celebrate are perfectly
balanced by the downs they suffer. And, as in any film about
the underdog trying to make a mark in the world, Corporate
Evil threatens their do-or-die independence at every turn.
It starts out promisingly though, if a tad hackneyed. Each
of the band members is introduced in brief vignettes, ending
with a funky little freeze and as it pans around them Matrix-style
while zooming in and out, finally superimposing their band
titles (“Lead Singer,” “Drummer,” etc.) over the image. These
introductions are obvious bids for the film to distinguish
itself, but somehow, they’re among the few moments in the
film that don’t seem false. In these first few minutes, the
thrill that the previews promised actually comes to pass.
Each character seems interesting right away, and, as all good
film students know, that’s a good thing.
And the characters are interesting, as far as the
story will let them be. Problem is, that’s not very far. As
Freddy, the band’s lead singer, Kick Gurry often bears
the cross of straight man to the goings-on around him. It’s
a thankless job, and his performance is never allowed to breathe
enough to make Freddy as interesting as the film sees him.
He’s surrounded by outsized characters, and so he tends to
be a wallflower to the action. While this certainly makes
the supporting characters a treat to watch, it saps the film
of any moral or emotional center.
Maya Stange is given a little bit more space to play
the calm center, and she does a pretty wonderful job. As Kate,
the eventual love interest of Freddy, Stange grounds her scenes
with a quiet bewildered acceptance of the confusion around
her. Because of her performance, Kate comes across as the
most three-dimensionally human character in the film, and
the most likeable.
The other characters are, for the most part, entertaining
but ultimately of the flat, stock variety. Tanya (Miranda),
the bass player and Freddy’s girlfriend, is a tiny spitfire
with a Louise Brooks bob who, in the film tradition
of small, plucky women, won’t take shit off no one. Lead guitar
player Joe (Stiller), who also happens to be Kate’s
boyfriend and therefore competition for our hero Freddy’s
affections, is the angsty sort, brooding with guitar in lap
and secret lover (Duncan, hamming it up as goth chick
extraordinaire) at his side. Lucy the drummer (Sadrinna),
who sports a weird cross between Mohawk and Elvis pompadour,
has but one mission in life: to find the ultimate high, which
he seeks out by gauging each drug experience on a 10-point
scale and writing it in his day planner. Each character has
very distinct, very obvious traits to set him or her apart.
These distinctions are the problem. Everything in Garage
Days is segmented—the characters, the storyline, everything.
The scenes all have an episodic, arbitrary feel to them, and
I often felt like I was being rushed along for no apparent
reason. When the film sits still and stops fidgeting long
enough to engage the audience, though, some great things can
happen. One scene involves each character’s hallucinations
after having accidentally taken hits of LSD. In another scene,
two characters get into a fight that ends up in a very violent
act of lovemaking. It’s moments like these that briefly give
Garage Days the spark that isn’t there the rest of
the time, because these scenes allow for something a little
unexpected to happen. They expand perspective just enough
to let the film stretch out and quit trying so hard.