Review by James Lindorf
In the early 80’s, Director Bruce Beresford (Driving Miss Daisy) scored two Academy Award® nominations for his Australian centered films, Breaker Morant and Tender Mercies. He returned to his roots with his latest project, Ladies in Black, an adaptation of the bestselling novel The Women in Black by Madeleine St John. Set in the summer of 1959, European migration and the rise of women’s liberation is about to change Australia forever. Ladies in Black will be available digitally on May 21st. It has a run time of 109 minutes and is rated PG for some suggestive material, mild language, and smoking.
While on a break from school and awaiting her exam results, 16-year-old Lisa takes a holiday job at the prestigious Sydney department store, Goodes. There, she is assigned to assist sales ladies Patty, Fay, Magda and the rest of the “ladies in black”. The film centers around Emmy® winner Julia Ormand (Temple Grandin), Angourie Rice (Spider-Man: Homecoming), and Rachel Taylor (Jessica Jones), a trio of coworkers that change each other’s lives.
The best thing about Beresford’s film is the light it shines on the positives that come from immigration and integrating yourself with people different from yourself. During a time when nationalism is on the rise around the world, it is a relief to see a project that says, yes, an influx of immigrants can be intimidating, until you get to know them. Then they are just like everyone else, and the only difference between them and a “true” Australian is where they were born.
Ladies in Back partnered that strong theme with robust performances from nearly every member of the cast. Unfortunately, some of the peripheral male characters were so greatly outshined that their inclusion may have been worth reevaluating. With a timeless theme and quality performances, the film’s downfall comes from the feeling of a lack of stakes.
When tackling subjects like immigration, women’s liberation, finding love and crumbling marriages, life can get very messy and this film refused to delve into the depths of human sadness or depravity. Everyone keeps their chin up and conflict is resolved almost instantly and without much struggle. It makes for an enjoyable watch but one without lasting impact outside of the immigration element.
In the end, Ladies in Black is filed with likeable characters being portrayed by talented actresses with a great message. While it may not reach the heights I would have liked, it is a strong entry into Beresford’s filmography.
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