In its lofty ambition to reach the heights of Baz Luhrman inspired fantasy, A Heartbeat Away ends up becoming the worse type of Australian bred fantastical farce.
Occasionally, a film’s opening credits can serve as an indicator of what’s to come. For A Heartbeat Away, a soap opera like sequence which tries to tack the piss out of Aussie television stalwarts Neighbours and Home and Away, is unfortunately prophetic in what’s to follow: poor production design, worse acting, and recycled ideas.
Essentially, A Heartbeat Away is a rip off of Baz Luhrman’s 1992 classic Strictly Ballroom, yet doesn’t come close to matching the quirky energy or passion for music that it desperately tries to convey.
The film is set in a tight nit, beach side community named Montague. There a musical family known as the Flacks are at civil war, as stubborn, classical music loving patriarch and feared marching band leader Edwin (William Zappa) bellows disapprovingly at the lifestyle choices by his hard rocking son Kevin (Sebastian Gregory).
The plot gets into gear when Edwin is sidelined indefinitely, and Kevin is force to lead the towns marching band into battle, with their success determining whether the ambitious town mayor (Colin Friels) will turn Montague into a yuppie resort town.
It’s hard to be excited with such stakes, especially since many of these plot points have been used in so many Australian film (with special mention to the small town vs greedy developers angle), that its revelations and conclusions are foreseeable.
There are a couple of elements that could have made things interesting, such as the father and son story, and the shared passion these characters have for music.
Yet director Gale Edwards’ handling of this material is so contrived, that the supposed strong emotions these characters have for their music, their town, and each other feels the least bit natural. The humour is especially forced, and fails to wrangle even a single smirk.
Performances don’t bode any better. Sebastian Gregory may look the rock god but doesn’t have any of the charismatic allure to pull it off, Edwin Zappa over does the cranky old bastard shtick, and it seems that all Isabel Lucas is good for is a scene where she thrives all over a dance floor, perhaps the best bit of comedy in the movie.
There is no doubting the obvious spirit behind this production, and in the closing stages some of that can be felt with a rousing piece of choreography that is as visually appealing as it is sonically. But that is a case of too little, too late.
The last couple of years have seen the Australian film industry consistently up its game. All that A Heartbeat Away achieves is take the quality of Aussie filmmaking a few steps back.