The Rage In Placid Lake


Directed by: Tony McNamara
Written by:Tony McNamara
Starring: Ben Lee, Rose Byrne, Miranda Richardson, Garry McDonald, Christopher Stollery
Released: August 28, 2003
Grade: A

A tired tradition at the Brisbane International Film Festival is that each film finishes with a round of applause from the audience.  There’s always someone who starts it off and the remainder feel obligated to join in.  Mid-way through The Rage In Placid Lake, I knew this would be a film that would be deserve the ovation and come the finale, I reciprocated by putting my own hands together.

Writer/director Tony McNamara created the strangely named Placid Lake but had difficulty in finding an actor who was quirky enough for the role.  Musician Ben Lee grabbed his attention and the chemistry with co-star Rose Byrne landed him the part.  The term “singer turned actor” has become somewhat of a cliché in the wake of Eminem and Jennifer Lopez but McNamara bypassed his initial self doubts and made an inspired decision.  Lee is simply superb in his first acting role.  Girlfriend Claire Danes (Romeo & Juliet) was on set for much of the eight week shoot and would have been a valuable resource of information to him.

Placid Lake (Lee) is an eccentric teenager raised by two hippie parents – Sylvia (Richardson) and Doug (McDonald).  His intelligence, mixed with sarcasm, sees him ostracised and continually picked on at school.  He’s the male equivalent of Thora Birch in Ghost World.  His best friend and sole confidant is a girl he has known almost all his life, Gemma (Byrne).  About to finish their final year of school, Placid talks of back-packing overseas whilst Gemma looks to follow her father’s wishes of studying science.

What develops is an educated look at the pressures teens face in leaving school and McNamara extends the material to make some insightful commentary on today’s corporate society.  Placid decides that it’s time for conformity.  There’s no point being part of the world’s rebellious minority and so he applies and accepts a junior position at a large insurance company.  A nine-to-five desk job is the last thing you’d expect from Placid but he’s does it because he thinks it’s what the world expects from him.  He’s taken a page from Gemma’s book.

Conversely, Gemma starts to lose her way.  The pressures of her father to achieve excellent results have put her on edge.  After years of being the “good girl”, she’s looking to rebel and live life for a change.  She’s taken a page from Placid’s book.

They both learn much from their transformations with Placid providing much of the film’s comedy inside the insurance company.  He knows how to play the game and mocks the system by bullshitting his way up the corporate ladder.  It’s not as hard as he thought to “win friends and influence people”.  A powerfully depressing speech by his boss at seminar tells Placid all he needs to know about the path he has chosen.  It’s the film’s defining moment.

There have been some wonderful Australian released in 2003 and this is the best of the bunch.  I’d go so far to say it’s one of our best ever.