This Australian drama is more affecting than its unattractive title and contrived set-up promised, thanks to LaPaglia, an Australian native who has done well in American television but still takes occasional big-screen roles at home (Lantana; Balibo).
A pleasure to watch, he's an actor whose features, at once craggy and droopy, make him ideal for the role of Adelaide real estate agent Frank Mollard, a man with a serious case of the existential blues.
His ex-wife (Home and Away vet Clarke, playing a soap opera star) talks to him like a big sister; his son (Crowther) doesn't talk to him at all; and he can't summon up the bland facsimile of sincerity necessary to do his job.
There's a lovely recurring motif in which, in featureless voice-over, he defines every scene's location in agent-speak ("This impressive property boasts") as if by pacing out the dimensions of rooms and reducing experiences to 100 words, will make life manageable. His Weltschmerz contrasts with the eerie self-assurance of his glad-handing boss, Phillip (our own Clarke, who steals most scenes he's in).
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Anyway, early on Frank answers the phone to a woman who says, "It's your mother." He's puzzled, not least because his mum has been dead a few months, but they get talking. She's dialled a wrong number, of course (perhaps she hasn't caught up with speed-dial), but for a few moments, her mistake and his loneliness dance, and an odd friendship is born.
She is Sarah (the prolific Blake, most fondly remembered from Paul Cox's Innocence), an elderly widow of grace and poise who belongs to an idealised past, and you don't have to be psychic to know what will happen next. But if the way their relationship unfolds follows a predictable arc, director Saville gives us plenty to enjoy on the way.
My favourite was some kids with balloons in soft focus in the background of a scene, a random explosion of joy that Frank can't see because he has his back to it.
LaPaglia and Blake work beautifully together as she asks him to take her on a tour of her former homes and he soon realises why. After Frank overcomes the suspicions of Sarah's adult son, the sub-plot involving Phillip's relationship with his dad feels like one idea too many but the film as a whole takes a well-worn trope and invests it with an unexpected emotional power.
Review: A Month of Sundays
Cast: Anthony LaPaglia, Julia Blake, Justine Clarke, John Clarke, Donal Forde, Indiana Crowther
Director: Matthew Saville
Running Time: 109 mins
Rating: PG (coarse language)
Verdict: Contrived but remarkably affecting