Stephanie (Emma Lung), born during a car accident that killed both her parents, has been raised by her late mother's loving but over-protective and life-worn best friend Jude (Jacqueline McKenzie). She starts work under the watchful eyes of Alan Taylor (Hugo Weaving), manager at the local peach cannery, and she is given her late mother's locked diary. Steph immerses herself in the intriguing world of the diary, and finds herself romantically pursuing Alan, knowing that he and Jude had been lovers at the time of her birth. As Steph learns more about her late mother, Jass (Sam Healy) and Vietnamese father, Johnny (Tyson Contor), she also sees, through Jass' eyes, a vibrant, risk-taking, fun-loving Jude she has never known - and begins to uncover secrets that no one is prepared for.
Review by Louise Keller:
Beautifully directed by Craig Monahan, whose debut film The Interview was released in 1998, Peaches is a visual and intense human drama about change and taking risks. The elements are impressive - a picturesque rural setting of a South Australian cannery, immaculate production values including editing by Suresh Ayyar and an undulating score by David Hirschfelder. The cast headed by Hugo Weaving and Jacqueline McKenzie and newcomer Emma Lung is also excellent, but the film never reaches its considerable potential with a script that feels under-developed. The resolutions are a little too pat, and the running time would definitely benefit from a nip and a tuck.
Scenes of the cannery conveyor belt, when halved peaches are manually turned over by the casuals on the line, are mirrored, as the present becomes the past in flash-back. As teenagers, Alan and Jude look different; she has long hair, while he wears glasses and stumbles on his stutter. Symbolically, the passage of time has brought enlightenment to Alan, who now apparently can see properly, and speaks fluently. Otherwise, they haven't aged at all, a fact that bothered me throughout.
Lung has the same innocence that Rose Byrnes displays on screen, playing Steph, the young girl who is getting hot and bothered on her first day on the job, as her guardian Jude (McKenzie) watches with protective eyes. Beyond the room temperature, there is another kind of heat sweltering, as Jude and foreman Alan Taylor (Weaving) clash.
Known all her life as 'the miracle baby' after her parents' death in a car accident before she was born, it's no wonder that when she is given her dead mother's diary, she becomes obsessed by the past. Jude won't talk about the past and the fun times, and Steph finds herself attracted to Alan, Jude's ex-lover. Monahan goes to great length to portray the sexual relationship between Steph and Alan, but the chemistry is missing. True that Alan's feelings are in part paternal and triggered by his lust for risk, but to me this relationship lacks sensuality.
We do get involved with all the characters, though, including Alan's younger ex-con brother Brian (Matt Le Nevez), who is also running away from his past. Soon Steph becomes the catalyst for change, prompting Jude and Alan to face their demons, and in her own case, to evaluate her future.
There are some terrific ideas in Peaches, and the characters stay with us, these multi-layered people struggling to surface, after being hidden in the shadows for so long.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
While nothing like them, Peaches has echoes of Somersault and Lantana in its themes and its non-urban setting. The dramatic pull of all three Australian films resides in the characterisations and their intricate relationships. And in all three films, these promises are fulfilled by outstanding actors.
Craig Monahan (whose 1998 drama The Interview remains one of my favourite Australian films) is a gifted director with a natural talent for cinema. Peaches represents a challenge, in that the story has to move between two time frames, 17 or so years apart. It all falls into place eventually, but there are patches early in the film where we are a little perplexed.
That aside, Peaches is compelling cinema, superbly photographed, with a stylish score from David Hirschfelder. But the greatest contributions come from the cast, each capturing the conflicted and yet ordinary characters who struggle with their demons - like the rest of us. So near to us all, yet so far... in each of the thematic issues that arise in the narrative, from the absence of biological parents to single parenting, from migrants and mixed marriages to workplace issues and the threat of company closure in a small community, there are elements we instantly recognise.
Emma Lung makes a notable debut as Steph, a determined young woman who begins to find her own feet just at the age that life is becoming horribly complicated. Hugo Weaving uses his power of stillness to build a tormented character who has weaknesses and regrets yet his compassion redeems him. And Jacqueline McKenzie shows the enormity of her talent, which we first glimpsed in Romper Stomper. Here, it's a matured craft that delivers a complex and frightened character who wants nothing but the best for her adopted daughter, her best friend's child, and has somehow let much of her own life pass by.
Playing Alan's brother Brian, Matt Le Nevez makes this potential caricature into a three dimensional - and engaging - character, full of flaws, but also full of life.
Peaches is a quintessential Australian story - so top marks in that department. That's what the funding is for, right? If it doesn't turn into a box office hit, the taxpayers can't complain. It does what it set out to do.
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CRAIG MONAHAN INTERVIEW
CAST: Hugo Weaving, Jacqueline McKenzie, Emma Lung, Matt Le Nevez, Sam Healy, Tyson Contor, Ed Rosser
PRODUCER: Craig Monahan, Don Reynolds, Margot McDonald
DIRECTOR: Craig Monahan
SCRIPT: Sue Smith
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Ernie Clark ACS
EDITOR: Suresh Ayyar
MUSIC: David Hirschfelder
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Robert Herriot
RUNNING TIME: 103 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Hopscotch
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: June 9, 2005