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F*!#ing Adelaide review: a love letter (of sorts) to the city has style and spunk to spare

The actor David Wenham’s feature film directorial debut, last year’s Ellipsis, is a love letter to Sydney in the form of a ‘night on the town’ story following two potential lovers, who spend an evening chatting and bonding. It is a classy and cultured affair, told in a wandering Richard Linklater or Woody Allen-esque style, with numerous instantly recognisable locations: an urbane dramedy with a travelogue-like twist.

Perhaps it says something about the filmmakers of Adelaide – or even the place itself – that the love letter they made about their city, F*!#ing Adelaide, contains, to my count, precisely zero recognisable locations (not even the Malls Balls!).

Instead of an elegant-sounding title, director, creator and co-producer of this six-part series, Sophie Hyde, inserts an expletive before the name of her home city, then exchanges letters for characters, effectively injecting it with gibberish.

City rivalry infuses the bones of the screenplay, written by Matthew Cormack (who wrote Hyde’s 2013 feature film 52 Tuesdays) with assistance from Matthew Vesely. Perhaps ‘rivalry’ is not the best word, given Cormack’s view is hardly competitive, regarding Adelaide as a big small town where everybody knows everybody, and the cool kids inevitably leave – similar terrain explored in the 2007 indie All My Friends Are Leaving Brisbane.

Kitty (Tilda Cobham-Hervey) has a ‘no names’ policy for her erotic encounters, believing Adelaide style incestuousness – so to speak – will ruin the experience (“We’re just going to find out that your friends are someone I went to jazz ballet with,” she tells one bemused paramour). Kitty is the youngest of her siblings, with an older brother Eli (Brendan Maclean) and a sister, Emma (Kate Box). The series revolves around this trio and their mother Maude (Pamela Rabe).

The first episode begins with the three siblings as children, their younger selves captured in misty shots that inform us this is an earlier time – as if someone has smeared vaseline around the edges of the frame. Emma tells Eli that “one day you’ll get out of here…one day you’ll be such a massive star.” This precedes a jump ahead to present day Sydney, where Eli performs a dodgy musical act with a keyboard and a pedal, to a non-existent crowd in a fleapit pub.

Has the ABC done enough to promote this series? F*!#ing Adelaide feels buried in the line-up, and seems to have made minimal impact online.

Summoned by Maude, Eli returns home and cannot hide his disdain for the place. “Do you feel like you sort of disappeared from the world a little when you come back here?” he says to Emma. And to Kitty: “I love it how you can say ‘new cafe here’ and everybody knows what you’re talking about. It’s like you only have one main street.”

Sentiments about returning home, with all the mixed feelings and formative tension this can evoke, have been well explored in film and television. As have the sale of a family home, which Hyde and Cormack also explore, leading to dramatic tension among the family. And yet, as a story about four hot-blooded characters, whose stories are told in quick but expressive detail (and in a lithe format, each episode running between 14 to 18 minutes) F*!#ing Adelaide still feels fresh.

Hyde and cinematographer Bryan Mason (who recently shot the excellent short film A Field Guide to Being a 12-Year-Old Girl) present an uncluttered and visually interesting style, sprinkled with moments of invention. One shot – in episode two – captures the point-of-view of a tray of cupcakes. Another – in episode six – keeps the actors performing in a key dramatic moment, during an unbroken shot (enhanced by clever use of focus pulling) that lasts for well over 10 minutes. This final episode unexpectedly doubles down on black comedy and concludes all too soon, as if somebody chopped the real ending off.

Has the ABC done enough to promote this series? F*!#ing Adelaide feels buried in the line-up, and seems to have made minimal impact online. That should change. It’s skilfully made and very entertaining, with a small but vigorous range of excellent performances. The veteran Pamela Rabe (so great in the 1997 Australian masterpiece The Well) contributes jaded, world weary heft, while Brendan Maclean exhibits a rare kind of presence: instantly and instinctively charismatic. It may not be classy, like Ellipsis, but this series has style and spunk to spare.

You can watch all of F*!#ing Adelaide on ABCivew

4 responses to “F*!#ing Adelaide review: a love letter (of sorts) to the city has style and spunk to spare

  1. I can say sincerely that no, the ABC has not done enough to promote this series, since I hadn’t heard of it at all, and I am both and ABC regular viewer and as, an ex-South Australian, the type that would be interested in this.

    Of course, my view of Adelaide wasn’t that of a home-grown Adelaidian. I grew up in the country, so Adelaide was the “big smoke”, 5 hours drive away, and somewhere you went maybe once a year until you left home to go to uni, never to return.

    Can’t believe the Mall’s Balls aren’t referenced though. Where else do you meet up with your hookups?

  2. Billy, how dare you say the ABC made this show for $12.57 an episode. I’ve done the maths and it’s at least $13.62

  3. Dear Daily Review, would you please stop giving every single thing made in this country uncritical praise. This entire show is just people saying the “F” word. And it looks like it was shot for $12.57 an episode. Is this what the ABC has been reduced to?

    I notice that Screen Australia originally funded this as a “comedy drama,” but the ABC has mysteriously abandoned the word “comedy” when referring to it. Presumably this was because someone in ABC marketing watched the show and realized how criminally unfunny it is.

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