Introducing the Dwights (Australia, 2007)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Introducing the Dwights is a coming of age story that (thankfully) doesn't play coy with issues of sexuality. The film, from Australian director Cherie Nowlan, doesn't always move smoothly (it has a tendency to jump around a little, especially in the early going) and it avoids overt heartstring tweaking. It's about a young man whose identity has been shaped and his manhood emasculated by this toxic mother, and how finding someone new to care about gives him the strength to cut the apron strings. While the material may not be new, its handling is fresh and honest and the lead performances are top notch.

Tim (Khan Chittenden) is facing approaching adulthood with more resignation than hope. His mother, Jean (Brenda Blethyn), is still chasing her dreams of stardom by performing her act as a standup comedian in clubs and bars where the disinterested patrons outnumber those who are paying attention. Tim is Jean's driver and assistant; he has nearly as many hopes riding on Jean's success as she does. Jean has another son, Mark (Richard Wilson), who is mentally diminished as a result of a brain injury he received at birth. Mark is incapable of being on his own but Tim feels that his mother is overprotective. The dynamic among the three shifts, and not for the better, when Tim falls head-over-heels for Jill (Emma Booth). Jill is fun-loving but unsure of herself and her first meeting with Jean is disastrous.

The primary relationships in Introducing the Dwights (Tim and Jean, Tim and Mark, Tim and Jill) are believably developed. It's unusual for a movie to capture effectively the awkwardness that can accompany early teenage love, but it's as palpable between Tim and Jill as their growing chemistry. Jill doesn't have as much screen time as Tim, but the screenplay nevertheless manages to fashion her into a three-dimensional character (her interaction with her best friend, Kelly - played by Katie Wall - helps). Director Nowlan isn't afraid to take us into the bedroom with Jill and Tim and show some of the problems they face there. The sex isn't explicit but it hasn't been watered down like in many American movies where the quest for the holy PG-13 grail becomes all-important.

It would have been all-too-easy for Jean to be presented as a harridan. The elements are in place - the brassy, larger-than-life personality, the way she smothers her boys with "love," her overt friendliness with the bottle, and her anti-male diatribes that pass as standup comedy. Yet neither Blethyn nor the filmmakers allow this to happen. They provide balance for Jean. She's a woman who gave up her dreams for her family and feels that life has handed her the short straw. And she really does love Tim and Mark - they are her whole life - even if she doesn't know how to show it. Her dislike of Jill is born out of jealousy. She's fighting to remain the primary woman in Tim's life. Jill doesn't recognize this at first but, when she does, she demands that Tim choose.

I have a few quibbles about the movie. The way the film is edited is odd, with missing transition scenes and strange juxtapositions. The ending is a little too pat, too clean. It's almost as if, after spending 90 minutes providing us with glimpses into the untidy lives of a small group of characters, Nowlan felt compelled to give us a carefully groomed resolution. The epilogue provides closure, but it seems cut from a different cloth than the rest of the piece.

Introducing the Dwights is being marketed as a comedy, which is probably a mistake. While there are some laughs to be had (most notably during a scene when Tim's dad provides his son with a few life lessons about what women want and how to deal with them after an argument), the movie is darker and more weighty than one might expect from a so-called "comedy." Just because one of the main characters happens to be a stand-up comedian does not automatically mean the production will be wall-to-wall laughs. Dramatically, the film is on solid ground - it gives us a few interesting characters and allows us to follow them through a critical phase of change and growth. It does what all good coming of age movies do, and that makes it a worthy and welcome entry into the genre.

Introducing the Dwights (Australia, 2007)

Director: Cherie Nowlan
Cast: Brenda Blethyn, Khan Chittenden, Richard Wilson, Emma Booth, Katie Wall
Screenplay: Keith Thompson
Cinematography: Mark Wareham
Music: Martin Armiger
U.S. Distributor: Warner Independent
Run Time: 1:45
U.S. Release Date: 2007-07-06
MPAA Rating: "R" (Sexual Situations, Nudity, Profanity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1