When Kath Day-Knight (Jane Turner) wins the trip to a tiny European kingdom with her spoilt daughter Kim (Gina Riley), she embarks on a fairy-tale adventure, accompanied by Kim’s second best friend, Sharon Strzelecki (Magda Szubanski).
It’s no risk to suggest that for many punters and pundits Kath and Kim, first on Fast Forward and later in their own TV series, were something of a naughty giggle plus gag reflex.
The camp is no longer toxic, merely cute
It was suburban satire of the best kind. Tasteless, sharp, crude, it drew its characters in large and grotesque shapes. They resonated deeply with an audience prepared to laugh at their own affectations, pretensions and self-delusions. But it’s my bet folks liked best the big hair, the comb over, the silly walks and the snarky byplay of its star-creators. But for me, it was the writers’ and players’ talent for verbal comedy that was trumps; it was charming to hear (and see) these comics drive a stake through the heart of the hideous, mindless media-driven sound bites that have gone a long way to poison our vernacular. I mean, I for one can’t hear 'metrosexual’ or 'affluent’ now and not crack up. Oh, and same goes for 'effluent’.
All these comic assets, and style quirks, have been transposed into this new feature film spin-off, Kath and Kimderella, directed by Ted Emery. But the often savage sensibility of the TV show has been dialed down. The camp is no longer toxic, merely cute.
As a movie experience, it’s a frantic, misshapen, distended thing, full of plot and ideas, fun and quite a few jokes (some of them very good). Shot in that timid style reserved for mainstream comedy – all wide shots and over-lit – it feels slow, slack and aimless and it seems to last forever.
As the title suggests, the plot sets out to parody Cinderella, but this is a long way from a Mel Brooks genre send-up. Actually, it’s a send-up of those grandiose US network soaps, with their outrageous tangled narratives involving mistaken identity, secret wealth and dispossessed sons and daughters.
Still, the plot means nothing. It’s simply a series of skits set in Italy with the old gang from the TV show and a few choice cameo characters with guest stars Richard E. Grant and Rob Sitch (who is very, very funny here playing an Italian prince in a wig bad enough to frighten small children and an accent so over the top it will live in infamy.)
The story has mum Kath (Jane Turner) win a holiday to Italy. She takes along her 25-year-old daughter Kim (Gina Riley) and long time pal, Sharon (Magda Szubanski). This leaves Kath’s hubby Kel (Glenn Robbins) cooling his heels at home. Meanwhile, Kim’s newly ex-ed-husband Brett (Peter Rowsthorn) wonders whether he ought to chase her to Italy.
The goils end up vacationing in the Castle of Javier (Sitch), the monarch of the charmingly entitled Papilloma, a principality run on the lines of a medieval monarchy, that, like all such fabled places, is insolvent. Oblivious to this fact, Kath is so horrified to find there’s no recycling or provision for solar power she hardly notices that the peasants (the population that is) is ragged and starving.
Javier is a cad and a gold digger and he seeks to seduce Kath, believing her to be wealthy. Kim and Sharon become involved in romantic intrigue, too.
Most of the best gags are puns. I especially like the bit where Kath 'mistakes’ the castle’s still intact torture chamber for a gym. The regular cast here is fine, though I think Grant and Sitch are the standouts.
But the comedy, at least compared to the TV show, seems a little toothless and
therefore harmless. This kind of humour works best if it’s a little dangerous; a bit wince worthy. Kath and Kim and Sharon (and their upper middleclass counterparts Prue and Trude) remain funny creations because the characters – self-obsessed and blind to their own foibles – are recognisable and in many ways worthy of some scorn. Or, to put it another way, we love them like a worn out cardie. It’s a feeling wrapped in nostalgia, camp and an Aussieness that for some may be slipping away.
There’s always been a fair amount of 'tut-tutting’ over the TV show: Is it a celebration or an exploitation of the lower middle class, asked a colleague this week? It has to be both and that’s bound to make some folks choke a bit. The movie won’t escape this kind of scrutiny, but it’s softer. For some, Kath and Kim have always been the true heirs to the spirit of Barry Humphries and his characters like Sandy Stone and Dame Edna. But that great comic made no secret of the fact that he loathed the Australia of lawns, pools, and kitsch. I think Riley and Turner and co. have been inspired by Humphries – you can see it in their love of colloquial comic costumes. You can hear their delight in the way they mangle and torture Aussie slang. But they’re not haters. They even pay homage to Humphries here. Dane Edna pops up to offer Kath and Kim some inspiration as the movie moves to its climax. How’s that for a pun?