Queen of the Desert

An introvert discovers herself in the Aussie outback

by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

movie-tracksTracks
July 10-13
RPL Film Theatre
4.5 / 5

It’s a testament to the brilliancy of Tracks that it’s the rare film I’ve watched twice in a year. Not only does it stands the additional scrutiny (unlike The Grand Budapest Hotel, which becomes trying). It also packs a serious emotional punch that works on repeated viewings.

To quote Flight of the Conchords: “I’m not crying. It’s just been raining on my face.”

This outstanding adaptation of Robyn Davidson’s real-life odyssey across the Australian Outback in 1977 is both simple and profound: Pushed by a troubled upbringing and a desire to experience the world hands-on, Robyn Davidson (Mia Wasikowska) sets up to walk across Western Australia. The trip involves crossing 1,700 miles of the most inhospitable land in the country, a tough endeavor even for hardened locals.

Armed with four camels and a dog, the delicate Davidson is resourceful enough to tackle the task at hand, but her determination often morphs into stubbornness, and complicates the already difficult task unnecessarily by pushing others away.

Her biggest supporter is Rick (Adam Driver, Girls), an outgoing National Geographic photographer smitten with Robyn, in spite of her surliness. The two circle each other for the length of the journey: There is sex involved, but their relationship can hardly be considered romantic. He represents everything Robyn despises — notoriety, shallowness, other people — but she must put up with his sporadic visits since the magazine is footing the bill. At times, Rick is baffled by this recluse of wide-open spaces, but on most occasions he’s just fascinated by her.

Credit must be given to a wonderful Mia Wasikowska (Jane Eyre). One of the strongest actresses of her generation (she’s only 25), Wasikowska skillfully plays Robyn as a resolute introvert without shutting the audience out. In many ways, Tracks resembles The Rover, minus the violent overtones (or R-Patz): both feature single-minded loners in a difficult journey across Flinders Ranges. While Guy Pearce is stoic and immovable, Wasikowska assimilates her surroundings and presses forward. It’s a beautiful performance to watch.

Davidson’s grim background is not used as misery-porn, but makes her a more rounded character. A relatable tragedy makes clear why Robyn has trouble forming attachments, without having to spell it out.

Director John Curran (The Painted Vail) does a great job grounding a notion as abstract as the transformative power of travelling without using the customary clichés (Tracks is the anti-Under the Tuscan Sun). Doesn’t hurt the lush cinematography makes the barren Outback look positively dreamlike. Curran uses the Aboriginal population effectively, steering clear of the patronizing often seen in these cinematic circumstances.

In the end, Tracks celebrates introverts, seldom an ideal subject for a movie. The film validates Robyn’s way of life: there’s nothing wrong with being selective and wait for others to prove their worth. Pretty counterintuitive, but true.


Annoying Teens Annoy

movie-paloaltoPalo Alto
Rainbow Theatre Cinema 7
2 out of 5

James Franco gets a lot of flak for being a dilettante, and rightly so. Actor, filmmaker, painter, writer: is there no artistic adventure he won’t try? And more importantly, is he good at any of it?

The answer, for the most part, is no.

Franco’s short story collection Palo Alto is clearly influenced by Raymond Carver and early Bret Easton Ellis. His subjects — adrift California teens — are walking clichés, going through the motions to fill their roles in the social pyramid that is high school. The film adaptation (produced by Franco himself, who also takes on a supporting role) is faithful to the book: it has no grit, but it does ring true at times.

Directed by Gia Coppola (granddaughter of Francis, niece of Sofia), Palo Alto revolves around April (Emma Roberts) and Teddy (Jack Kilmer), two deeply dissatisfied teenagers who are psychologically unable to break with their surroundings. They fleetingly find each other, but fail to recognize that they’re kindred spirits. Without adult guidance (their parents are mostly either absent or emotionally stunted), April and Teddy are at the mercy of predatory figures and must find the strength to escape the vicious circle that imprisons them.

Palo Alto has the potential to be richer and more complex than your average coming-of-age story, but the outcome is duller than a butter knife. It’s also infuriating: the leads make the wrong decisions for 85 minutes, until a very obvious epiphany hits them on the heads.

For a far superior take on California kids gone wild, check out The Bling Ring.

2014-07-10