The Waiting City tells the story of an outwardly happy Australian couple (Joel Edgerton, Radha Mitchell) who journey to India to collect their adopted baby. When they arrive in Kolkata they discover that the adoption arrangements have still to be finalised. Soon the intoxicating mystic power of the city pulls them in separate and unexpected directions and the vulnerability of their marriage begins to reveal itself.
Against the disorientating backdrop of hot and frenzied Kolkata, Australian couple Fiona (Radha Mitchell) and Ben (Joel Edgerton) navigate the bureaucracy of the international adoption process. A series of extended delays disrupt their plans to take possession of their infant daughter, and serve as a flashpoint for simmering tensions within the relationship.
Writer/director Claire McCarthy has a long-held love of India and it shows in this, her debut feature film, where she takes pains to engage with the characters and mythology of the city of Kolkata, beyond their functions as bit players in the tale of the feuding Australians.
McCarthy’s stated intent is to shine a light into the dark corners of an established relationship, at the places where alienation can take hold, yet she overstates the 'intimate strangers’ angle by positing her two leads at such exaggerated extremes. Mitchell’s Fiona is at first a tetchy Type A, who nurses a laptop and two phones in the hotel room, and Skypes her law firm board meetings to monitor the closure of a big account. She is a polar opposite to laidback husband Ben, a musician whose career is on hold whilst he treats his clinical depression. Estrangement is intimacy grown cold yet there’s very little indication of what brought these two together in the first place, given there’s very little hint of the people they were before life and its trajectories intervened.
Whilst McCarthy’s narrative contains the right seeds for an affecting character study of a relationship in flux, uneven execution of pivotal moments in the drama – especially early on – rob the film’s later moments of lasting poignancy: when Fiona’s curiosity is piqued by a pretty hippy chick (Isabel Lucas) who shows a degree of familiarity with her husband, Fiona asks the obvious question with all of the detached curiosity of a casual acquaintance, not a wife; when events conspire to alter Fiona’s priorities and the Ganges’ murky depths have a transformative effect on her constitution, the epiphany seems more a plot convenience than a moment of genuine transcendence; and a post-coital revelation rings hollow in the absence of a convincing shared history.
For all of the film’s script flaws, McCarthy deserves credit for her willingness to take The Waiting City to places that many of her contemporaries seem fearful to tread, and she weaves an interesting conceit around a domestic drama. The Waiting City is certainly a promising debut, if not an
altogether successful one.