Film review: Swinging Safari

How much ‘wrongness’ are you willing to accept for comedy? That’s the question reviewer Heather Taylor Johnson asked herself while watching Swinging Safari, Stephan Elliott’s outrageous homage to ’70s suburbia.

Jan 18, 2018, updated Jan 19, 2018

A blue whale washes up on the coastal “tidy town” of Wallaroo and it’s the defining moment for Jeff, a young teenage filmmaker who gets the cul-de-sac kids to do the most dangerous tricks then uses tomato sauce for vein-severing blood-spurts or watermelon for smashed-in faces.

He’s into Melissa, the solitary neighbour who wants out of town. He’s sensitive to her sensitivity, and together they believe that their parents are bonkers.

Meanwhile, their parents (played by Asher Keddie, Jeremy Sims, Radha Mitchell and Julian McMahon – who are all bonkers) and another couple (Kylie Minogue and Guy Pearce – also bonkers and who also have kids who run amok in the cul-de-sac) decide that the night of the whale’s beaching is the perfect occasion to partake in some swinging. After cheese fondue in a sunken lounge and copious amounts of alcohol, they give it a go, and they fail, hilariously.

There are fine lines between absurdity, obscenity and recognisability in Swinging Safari, a movie that feeds off the ferality of 1970s suburbia, and therein lies its success.

This is writer/director Stephan Elliott’s homage to his upbringing; he calls it a “love letter to lost parents”. As he did with outback folk and drag queens in The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, Elliott takes the micky out of his characters – in this case an Australian middle-class caught up in keeping-up, blessedly innocent yet dangerously culpable.

What’s so funny about children lighting each other on fire while their parents get wasted, just inside? Plenty if it’s a satire, but how much wrongness are you willing to accept for comedy? I asked myself this for most of the movie, completely conflicted by how much fun I was having.

The producer, the costume designer, musical composer and art director also worked on Priscilla, so it’s not hard to imagine Swinging Safari to be another work of exaggeration. Maybe there’s too much nostalgia filled with too many clichés, but does it matter if there’s no time to get annoyed?

I was too busy squirming in my seat, covering my mouth in disbelief and laughing out loud. And applauding. I had to applaud the brilliance of the whale.

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