Twenty something trust fund kid Anthony Patch and his party girl wife Gloria Gilbert are disinherited by their wealthy benefactor grandfather and their lives spiral out of control in a blizzard of drugs, sex and eventual violence. Based on the novel by F.Scott Fitzgerald.

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A sordid, yet timid, melodrama.

Adapted from a 1922 novel by F Scott Fitzgerald, Richard Wolstencroft’s debut feature film is a sordid and fascinating piece of work. Everything about this movie seems rough, and coarse; he seems to want to goad us, provoke us, make us a little angry. This seems a deliberate calculation; a heavy piece of dramatic irony for its setting is the Melbourne upper-crust. The novel was set amongst the east coast social elite and dealt with alcoholism. Here the characters are mostly over-dressed twenty-something trust fund 'babies’ who spend their time taking loads of drugs – coke mainly – and having lots of sex. Sunken in a morass of live-now pay-never narcissism, they’re happy neo-decedents who spout a fascistic line of chatter in between snorts and worry out loud how they can avoid doing anything meaningful with their lives.

Shot on digital capture, the film, at first, seems like an Antipodean take on Dogme; rough hewn, long-take scenes of strong character 'types’ – the bully, the slut, the artist, the layabout, caught in situ. But Wolstencroft doesn’t quite have such a tight orthodoxy as von Trier’s rigid rulings in mind. The film’s style and editing zig-zags and shifts as the narrative unwinds; at times he’ll switch off the dialogue track and let scenes play out against a blaring music cue. And, as the plot really takes hold in the second half, the film's staging and editing adopts the tried and conventions of TV drama mobilising suspense, shock and sympathy.

Dedicated to Bret Easton Ellis and JG Ballard, their influence and individual stylistic tics hang heavy over the action. Here sex is empty or simply an agent for upward mobility or else an expression of psychotic tendencies (or perhaps even homicidal impulse).

Yet, for reasons that are hard to get at, there is too a timidity about Wolstencroft’s movie. Sure, there are lots (some would argue way too many) scenes of drug taking and some nudity. But it seems strange that Wolstencroft – a long time advocate of avant-garde and 'underground cinema’ (he is long time director of MUFF) – doesn’t seem to want to be too rude, or too dangerous or too perverse.

For instance, much of the film hangs on the fractious marriage between Anthony Patch (Ross Ditcham), heir to a fortune and Gloria (Kristen Condon), an un-reconstructed gold-digger, who is also unapologetically sexually promiscuous. Wolstencroft casts this unhappy alliance as a variation on teen movie relationships; since this union has no firm emotional basis the pair argues aimlessly over trivialities. It’s not like watching a relationship implode; it’s like watching a parody of the way high-gloss TV caricature the uber-rich as stupid ninnies. It’s seems a conscious attempt to remind us where watching a construct; yet the key dramatic high points have an altogether different mood and register. Not only that, one of the films major plot points is a seedy 'orgy’ – but compared to similar scenes in such mild pics as Scandal (1988), Wolstencroft’s vision seems positively embarrassed at the thought of girl on girl sex or multiple partners. This orgy is more like a strip poker game that’s got a little out of hand; awkward and untidy and everyone seems a bit dizzy with confusion.

As the film opens Anthony has been living off grandfather Adam (Norman Yemm). But after stumbling into the aforementioned orgy the old man disinherits Anthony. Gloria, an occasional aspiring actress, auditions for a film; but things get ugly when she is asked to strip. Wolstencroft shoots the scene discretely. There’s no nudity just a lot of sleazy looks from the 'filmmakers’.

Is this heavy-handed irony at the expense of the audience (to deliberately withhold the 'pleasure’ principle from the audience?) Is it a rejoinder to the way filmmakers so casually exploit plot points so they amp up the sex factor?

In the end I’m not at all certain. But for a film that at first seems to scorn a kind of sentimentalised view of characters, The Beautiful and Damned ends in despair. The innocent do get it in the neck here, but the ugly hearted beauties responsible don’t seem destined to live happily ever after. Stripped of its Fitzgerald nuances, and Melbourne in-jokes (which by the way are very enjoyable), Wolstencroft’s picture is more like classic melodrama in its plot than scathing social commentary.