Film Review: Three Summers (Australia, 2017) is an amiable comedy about diversity

Three Summers is a film that is as light and breezy as its title suggests. It’s also an ensemble comedy that is written and directed by the legendary, Ben Elton. The latter is known for his novels and the TV shows: The Young Ones and Blackadder. In Three Summers he creates a warm-hearted and well-intentioned story about Australian race relations. The message is that we should all embrace diversity and listen to each other’s stories. While it’s excellent to see a film about Australia actually reflect the people from this wonderful land of Oz, it’s a damn pity that the plot is so lacking.

There are one too many sub-plots in this story, which is set at an annual music festival in rural WA. Thousands of people – including some loveable eccentrics – come together for a “folking good time” and an environment that is dubbed, “Australia in a tent.” The Warrikins are one musical troupe that always appear on the bill. They are fronted by a free-spirited and feisty, fiddle-playing young woman named Keevey (Home & Away’s Rebecca Breeds). Her hard-drinking father (John Waters) plays second fiddle. Just kidding, he plays the guitar in this Irish-folk act.

At the 16th annual Westifal a lippy Irish lad named Roland (Misfits’ Robert Sheehan) attends. He’s a part-time dog washer and an over-confident, tech-savvy Theremin player. Roland and Keevey hit it off at first. But then Roland makes fun of the Warrikins’ wascaly ways (not really, he hates folk music and makes fun of their interesting band name.) What follows is a bland, paint-by-numbers romance between these two kids, which unfolds over the course of the following two summers.

Some other attendees at the festival are also known to butt heads. Michael Caton plays a grumpy, racist grandfather and Morris dancer who believes that citizenship is not a right but something that is earned over time. He has scrapes with another older gentleman who is played by Kelton Pell and whose character is the leader of the local indigenous dance group. The indigenous elder insists that the English are an occupying force in Australia due to the absence of a treaty. This is Messer Elton making a political statement but for the most part he plays things safe. Magda Szubanski meanwhile, plays Queenie, a do-gooder from the local town radio station who tries to keep this town’s motley crew together.

The other supporting characters are given short cameos. They include Deborah Mailman as an AA counsellor, an overzealous security guard (Kate Box) who polices the portaloos, an Afghan refugee, a goth, some rock chicks, drummers and some empty-nesters (the latter is a series of disposable, recurring gags for Peter Rowsthorn and others.) On the one hand it is good to see some diversity but this cast list is by no means exhaustive of contemporary Australia. It also means that with so many different characters, there are some that are reduced to little more than stereotypical caricatures to save time, which is a shame.

This film does have some snappy one-liners but there are some things that occasionally misfire. Keevey is a technophobe who doesn’t have an email address in 2017 yet apparently uses Tinder. No one in their right mind would buy a rap/Theremin/dog-barking combination, never mind make it a huge global smash hit. There are some plotlines that also feel unresolved at the end. The Australian soundtrack is fabulous and features Gotye, Sarah Blasko and Ball Park Music among other acts, but the soundtrack could have used some more recent songs or some actual Australian folk music instead.

Three Summers is an episodic, comedy film that showcases some quirky groups of festival faithfuls over multiple instalments of this one fictional sideshow. The result is a pleasant little look at contemporary Australia and a story which ultimately encourages a community of acceptance and inclusion. This film tries to stuff too much into its runtime and it’s a ragtag mix of different characters and stories and while it recommends we listen to different viewpoints, you can’t help but feel like the message here is a tad muddied by this choir of too many voices singing at once. A pity.


Three Summers is set to release in Australian theatres 2nd November 2017.


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