Introducing the Dwights
There is something about independent Australian films. They have a knack for examining the lives of deeply flawed people in gritty, less-than-perfect situations and yet still, somehow, end in such a manner than allows you to leave the theater feeling good both about the characters and yourself.
Case in point: Introducing the Dwights.
Dwights stars Brenda Blethyn as Jean, a risqué comedienne who calls herself The Raunchy Homemaker and still hopes to make it big despite being “on the wrong side of 50.” She was a rising star once, back in her native England, but she married John (Frankie J. Holden), a traveling musician from Australia and moved Down Under with him where she promptly became pregnant. Little did she know that John would be a one hit wonder, her eldest son would be mentally handicapped, her marriage would end in a bitter divorce, and she’d have to sacrifice her dreams of stardom to work menial jobs in order to feed her family.
Despite living the highjacked life of a fry-cook, Jean nonetheless still considers herself a star. The sort of larger than life personality that sucks all the attention out of a room and focuses it on herself, Joan constantly courts the proverbial spotlight, always insisting on being the very center of attention. It’s hardly a surprise then that her youngest son, Tim (the shockingly handsome Khan Chittenden), is painfully shy.
21, living at home, and a one-man moving service with a small truck paid for by his mother, Tim meets Jill (Emma Booth) one day while on the job and is instantly smitten. Tim is dreadfully awkward around Jill yet somehow musters up the courage to ask her out on a date. Introversion is not something with which the precocious Jill is familiar and she quickly finds herself equally charmed by her timid suitor.
Used to having Tim on which to test out her material or schlep her to her vaudevillian shows, Jean is far from happy with Tim’s sudden divided loyalties. She constantly calls him in the middle of his dates to remind him to pick up milk on the way home or some other such rambling bit of inconsequence. These calls usually arrive at the most inappropriate moments, such as when the nymphomaniac Jill takes the sexually inexperienced Tim under her expert wing. While Jean talks about sex from the stage, her son is experiencing the real thing for the first time in his life. Tim’s sexual awakening is an embarrassing and awkward learning curve. At first, Jill misinterprets Tim’s sexual terror as disinterest and disgust.
One night, as they lie in each other’s arms, Jill asks Tim when she’s going to meet his parents. Tim takes a long time to find the right words. “My parents…” he finally manages to choke out as a kind of confession, “…are entertainers.” He might as well have said, “My parents are serial killers.”
Jean does finally meet Jill, though she pretends to never be able to remember the girl’s name. Terrified of being alone with her handicapped son (Richard Wilson) and unwilling to let her Tim go, Jean tries to manipulate him back to her side with guilt. When that doesn’t work, she employs the same acidic wit and sarcasm that has given her some modicum of success on her comedy circuit. At first directed only at Tim, the humiliation and ridicule eventually finds itself leveled straight at a wilting Jill. After one too many nights of watching him defer to his mother’s every whim, Jill gives Tim an ultimatum: “You need to make a choice. It’s her or me.” Tim’s cannot possibly make both women happy and his choice will send one of them spiraling into a meltdown.
Believe it or not, Introducing the Dwights is a touching comedy, albeit a heartfelt, bittersweet one. Beneath every comedy runs an eddy of sadness, and Dwights never loses sight of the sort of humor that is deeply embedded in everyday life, even a life caught in the gravity of agonizing transition. As Jean tries her hardest to come between her son and his coming of age, Tim has to find a way to juggle the emotions of the two women in his life he cares about most without losing himself in the fray.
While every actor involved with Dwights is spot on, it is the film and theatrical veteran Blethyn who rises above the rest. Her role as a bipolar mom laughing uproariously one moment and disintegrating into despair the next is sure to catch Oscar’s attention. It is to her very great credit that no matter how cruel Jean gets, we never stop liking her. Her hysterical resistance to going gently into that good night and inability to grow old gracefully constitutes the film’s emotional core. Yes, Introducing the Dwights is a melodrama, but this melodrama handles its emotional manipulation with such subtle honesty that it takes on an impressive degree of realism. If the denouement strains a certain amount of believability, it is, arguably, completely satisfying.