MED 231 Assignment # 2 - Critical Review and Bibliography

Natalie Hailes Phakos

The Rage in Placid Lake

Part One

Rage in Placid Lake, The (2003) Written and Directed by Tony McNamara

Genre: Comedy

Tagline: Placid Lake isn't your usual rebel. He wants to work in insurance.

Plot Outline: An exuberant, sharply satirical comedy about two parentally neglected teenagers who find the courage to believe in themselves

Runtime: Australia: 89 min

Country: Australia

Language: English

Colour: Colour

Certification: Australia (M)

Principal Cast and Credits

Ben Lee .... Placid Lake

Rose Byrne .... Gemma Taylor

Miranda Richardson .... Sylvia Lake

Garry McDonald .... Doug Lake

Christopher Stollery .... Joel

Nicholas Hammond .... Bill Taylor

Francis McMahon .... Anton

Saskia Smit .... Jane

Toby Schmitz .... Bull

Nathaniel Dean .... Lachie

Stephen James King .... Angus

Socratis Otto .... Bozo

Jordan Brooking .... Young Placid

Eleeza Hooker .... Young Gemma

Claire Danes .... Girl at Seminar

Directed by

Tony McNamara

Writing credits (in alphabetical order)

Tony McNamara

Produced by

Marian Macgowan .... Producer

Bryce Menzies .... Executive producer

Gary Phillips .... Executive producer

Jane Smith .... Associate producer

Louise Smith .... Co-producer

Mark Vennis .... Executive producer

Original Music by

Ben Lee (song "Naked")

Cezary Skubiszewski

Cinematography by

Ellery Ryan

Film Editing by

Lee Smith

Casting by

Nikki Barrett

Production Design by

Roger Ford

Art Direction by

Elaine Kusmishko

Costume Design by

Lisa Meagher

Production Companies

Australian Film Finance Corporation (AFFC)

Macgowan Films

New South Wales Film & Television Office

Rapacious Productions

Showtime Australia


Moviehouse Entertainment (GB)

Palace Films (Australia)

Release Dates

Australia 28 August 2003

Norway 16 October 2003 (Bergen International Film Festival)

Box Office Figures

Opening Week (Australia) $112,864

Total Gross (4 weeks) $463,865

Nominations and Awards

Australian Comedy Awards

Year Result Award Category/Recipient(s)

2003 Nominated Australian Comedy Award Outstanding Comic Screenplay

Tony McNamara

Outstanding Film Comedy

Australian Film Institute

Year Result Award Category/Recipient(s)

2003 Won AFI Award Best Screenplay, Adapted from another Source

Tony McNamara

Nominated AFI Award Best Actress in a Leading Role

Rose Byrne

Best Actress in a Supporting Role

Miranda Richardson

Best Film

Marian Macgowan

Australian Writers' Guild

Year Result Award Category/Recipient(s)

2003 Won Awgie Award Feature Film - Adaptation

Tony McNamara

Major Ward Award

Tony McNamara

Film Critics Circle of Australia Awards

Year Result Award Category/Recipient(s)

2003 Nominated FCCA Award Best Screenplay - Adapted

Tony McNamara

Best Supporting Actor - Female

Miranda Richardson

Best Supporting Actor - Male

Garry McDonald

If Awards

Year Result Award Category/Recipient(s)

2003 Nominated If Award Best Production Design

Roger Ford

Kerrie Brown

Best Script

Tony McNamara

Best Sound

John Willsteed

Andrew Belletty

Robert Sullivan

Melbourne International Film Festival

Year Result Award Category/Recipient(s)

2003 Won Most Popular Feature Film

Tony McNamara

Bibliographical details - Interviews with Filmmaker

* David Edwards. "Maintaining his Rage", in The Blurb, 2003

"So, you're a successful writer for the stage - where do you go to from there? If you're Tony McNamara, the answer is into film; and specifically into the strange and slightly surreal world of Placid Lake, the kid with hippie parents who wants to rebel by working in insurance. In The Rage in Placid Lake, McNamara crafts a world in which everything is upside down, in which conventional values are usurped and the act of buying a suit becomes a byword for revolution."

* Sarah Knight. "Tony McNamara talks about The Rage in Placid Lake", 720 ABC Perth, 23 August 2003

"The Rage in Placid Lake, starring Ben Lee, Rose Byrne, Gary McDonald and Miranda Richardson opens in Perth this week. Tony McNamara is the writer director of this new Australian film and will be taking your questions at a preview on Sunday. Tony McNamara's work is well known - you may already be a fan of his if you love and watch The Secret Life of Us - which he writes. This feature film, of a guy called Placid Lake, an intelligent misfit with aging hippy parents, and how he rebels by trying to be normal is funny. So what it was like directing for the first time? "

Bibliographical Details - Reviews and Online Presence

* Cinephilia (Australia)

Reviewed by Cynthia Karena

* Cinephilia (Australia)

Reviewed by Bruce Paterson

* Edinburgh International Film Festival, August 2003

"An Australian Rushmore, No Less"

* IF Review

Reviewed by David Edwards

* Jigsaw Lounge

Reviewed by Neil Young

* News.Com (Australia)

Reviewed by Paul Byrnes

August 28, 2003

* SBS Movie Show (Australia)

Reviewed by David Stratton Margaret David

* Triple J (Australia)

Reviewed by Megan Spencer

* The Film Pie (Australia)

Reviewed by: Matthew Toomey

* The Official Rage in Placid Lake Website

* Urban Cinefile (Australia)

Additional links

Collecting the Information

The Internet Movie Database ( was by far the easiest and most comprehensively documented site to begin my search on. It not only provided me with invaluable information in relation to the film I was researching but also provided many links with which to further my research, including a link to the official "Rage in Placid Lake" website. In addition to this I ran a general search on Google for "The Rage in Placid Lake" and "Tony McNamara" and came across a number of websites containing reviews, interviews and film information. Box office figures were the hardest to come by as a lot of the major cinema sites are subscription only. I eventually came across the information on the Movie Marshall website at

Part Two

Critical Review
When Placid Lake (Jordan Brooking as young Placid) was a little boy, his mother sent him to school wearing a dress, just so he could experience sexuality from a different point of view. As a result, he was beaten senseless and for years was the victim of bullies Bull, Lachie and Angus (Toby Schmitz, Nathaniel Dean and Stephen James King). The positive experience for Placid out of all of this was his meeting with his soul mate Gemma (Eleeza Hooker as young Gemma)- a lonely, crayon-eating,clever kid. Gemma loses her mother at 8 and her father, not quite sure how to deal with children, wants her to be a scientist.

Years pass - The bullying continues throughout high school and Placid's (Ben Lee) parents, ageing hippies with an eccentric outlook on the world refuse to retaliate to their son's beatings leaving Placid feeling somewhat rejected and unloved. These circumstances bring Placid and Gemma (Rose Byrne) closer together and strengthen their friendship based on their shared loneliness, rejection and 'weirdness'.

With the pressures of graduation looming Placid decides on one final payback to those that have caused him misery. He creates a film titled "Life is Super Dooper" which ends up winning him $10 000. But all is not as it seems and when it comes to the graduation night screening the film is in fact an expose of the reality behind the behaviour of the people in his life - his hippie parents and experimentally lesbian mother, his alcoholic teachers, the promiscuous teenage girls of his year, and of course the drug dealing bullies who have tormented Placid all his life. Not everyone finds it as funny as Placid and he is soon confronted by the bullies for one final bashing. His only escape is to jump off the school building and attempt to fly away from it all.

The viewer is hence transported into what could be called part two of the film which begins with Placid in hospital, having broken every bone in his body. Speculation is rife that the bullies pushed Placid off the building and only he can tell the truth, and truth is not what he has in mind. With the removal of the last bit of plaster encasing his body, Placid begins a journey, a transformation of the self he loves into a self that society will in fact find acceptable. His plan - "to reinvent myself, to be a person acceptable to others, to work within the parameters, the social mores - in under 3 weeks I intend to become a normal part of society".

Placid is transformed into a suit wearing drone that ends up working in insurance. With his George Bush style haircut, tailored suit and conformist attitude he begins his transformation as a normal person in a normal society.

He soon fast tracks his way to success at Icarus insurance, co-habits with Gemma (in a purely platonic sense) and finally achieves normality. While everything seems to be going well, Gemma soon questions Placid's motives and their friendship is rocked, as well as the contempt that he receives from his parents because of his normality and apparent rebellion. To add to this Placid is beaten up one last time by the bullies that he has tried to hard to become.

Placid is thus struck by the reality of it all - he is who he is and sometimes one can't change that. His quirky sense of humour, intelligence and weirdness are what makes him Placid. With this he returns to his 'old' life and his true love Gemma, not after his parents get physically involved in defending him against the bullies!

The film, although fairly simple in its story structure is riddled with issues such as conformity, self-expression, questions of what is real vs. fake, empty vs. fulfilled, love and friendship. The audience is rewarded with a very special message though this film, one that teaches us to be proud of who we are.

Critical Uptake

The critical uptake and success of The Rage in Placid Lake can at this stage only be assessed in relation to its Australian release (even though the film was released in Norway in October 2003 I have not come across any review literature regrading the film's uptake). The film has however subsequently been picked up by 20th Century Fox and will be available for limited release in the U.S. from May 21st this year (2004).

Throughout Australia the film was generally received with much praise and applause for director Tony McNamara and his star studded cast. Reviews were quite extreme in their reception, from calling it the "best Australian film ever" (Matthew Toomey, Film Pie Australia, 2003), to something "gauzily TV-bland to look at - a forgettable mild fare" (Neil Young, Jigsaw Lounge, 2003). Lukewarm reviews like that of the SBS Movie Show Australia, were complementary of McNamara's writing and directing style, but highly critical of Ben Lee's performance as Placid. In fact, even the great reviews mentioned the strength of the cast without mentioning Lee's name. In most cases he was considered "lacking an assertive screen appearance" (SBS Movie Show, 2003) and having a "deadpan style that doesn't give much emotional weight or range to the character" (Bruce Patterson, Cinephilia Australia, 2003).

On the whole however, the film was generally well received and praised as a successful film adaptation of McNamara's 1998 stage play titled "The Cafe Latte Kid". In most cases the good reviews outnumbered the bad as is evident in the number of awards that the film went on to win at the AFI's and the Melbourne International Film Festival to mention only two.


With a script (an adaptation of McNamara's stage play "The Cafe Latte Kid") ready in hand, funding ($375 000 from the NSW Film and Television Office, the Australian Film Finance Corporation) and distribution (Palace Films in Australia) organised, as well as a generous commitment from Showtime Australia, Macgowan Films Pty Ltd started shooting The Rage in Placid Lake at the beginning of March 2002 for 7 weeks.

When producer Marian Macgowan (Macgowan Films Pty Ltd) was researching the film she found that

"what was peculiar about the appeal of the film was that, whilst the obvious age bracket of late teens early twenties would identify with the two central characters, the biggest appreciation came from the thirty something's who could look at their own experience and say 'I was like that, I was on outsider, I felt like I was different and I was picked on and I recognise that I was unique like him.' It's a story about an outsider learning how to like the fact that he's an outsider and be proud of that and let that be what that's going to be; that's a story most people understand." (Sourced 17/04/04

Between McNamara and Macgowan all parties on set were invited to make suggestions and criticisms of the filming process during production. A common view voiced by his production team was Tony's ability to listen to everyone, and take on new ideas as well. This was a very important part of how Marian Macgowan likes to work a production.

"I think that's one of the most important things to me". You hire very experienced people to work with you to make a film and it always seems to me therefore you should listen to what they have to say so that everybody feels if there's a good idea, a good idea can be used from wherever it comes from. Tony had the same sort of response to people, he would be prepared to listen to everybody's opinion, and it became a question of would he have the time to process them. Good ideas are good ideas and you want them to make your film better and listening I think is one of the most important things about film production." (Sourced 17/04/04

While working on a film as an adaptation of a stage play, McNamara treated a lot of the process in a similar way to working on a theatre production. The full cast was required on set two months prior two filming for rehearsals. This was to prepare not only the experienced actors like McDonald and Richardson but to provide a platform for first time actor Ben Lee.

Ben, who had never worked on a film set before, although he had frequented them often, visiting friends, found the whole experience exhilarating. From the moment he first picked up the script he readily identified with this character, whose greatest desire is to fit in, through Placid's whole journey from adolescence to adulthood, from being 'weird' to 'normal' and the pitfalls of being yourself.

"For me it parallels my own life, it's about the awakening of an artist, it's about the realisation of my character being different to everyone else and how do you cope with that. His parents are this hippy couple who have some warped ideas about how to raise a kid. He has this relationship with Gemma, they're best friends and, you know there are romantic undertones. But essentially it's just about how does he face who he is? It's great because it's kind of an exaggerated version of what happens to every single person at the end of adolescence." ( accessed 17/04/04)

Mcgowan concludes -

"The core emotional story is about people in their late teens and early twenties but the film appeals to an older demographic because of the observations it makes about the central characters and also about the characters around it. There is a whole other set of layers involving the parents and the work environment and choices that are amusing as well for an older audience. You're primary emotional focus must be on your core story, you must get Gemma and Placid right, but if you get that right and then you get all these other layers then you've got something for everybody to watch." (Production information sourced from the official Rage in Placid Lake website on 17/04/2004).

Upon its release on August 28th 2003, the film grossed $112 864 in its opening week, with a total gross of $463 865 reported at the end of its screening period.

Pre-Production and Prior Work

The Rage in Placid Lake is a dark comedy is written and directed by Tony McNamara and is based on his stage play The Cafe Latte Kid, which premiered in 1998 Sydney Theatre Company. It is produced by Marian Macgowan (Two Hands), and co-produced by Louise Smith (Tulip).

Tony McNamara grew up in a very non artistic house so it struck him when he moved to the city how inner city/urban kids seemed to grow up in a very different environment, often ignored by their yuppie/ baby boomer parents. He wanted to write a play about one boy's struggle for attention and the desperate measures that that can lead to. (, accessed 17/04/04). Tony took the script to Macgowan Films whilst he was working on another production with Marian Macgowan called The Candidate.

"When he brought me The Rage in Placid Lake we began work on the screenplay almost immediately. Because of the way Tony and I work we didn't have a set number of drafts, we just kept working through it, he would change one section, then we would re-read it, make changes again and then talk through it. It was a very fluid process which took about 6-9 months." (, accessed 17/04/04).

Macgowan felt that McNamara was the best person to realise and interpret this particular script, that he deserved the opportunity to stage something exactly the way he saw it in his mind.

"Tony clearly is a performance based director, that's his strength, therefore he needs to be focussing on that. I wanted to structure a crew that meant that Tony was focused on the character, the performances, the story, the emotional through line, the clarity of the story telling, and what he needed to be supported on, possibly, was how those were staged, just from a technical point of view. That was the reason we approached Ellery Ryan (Angel Baby, Death in Brunswick, Cosi etc) and Lee Smith ( Buffalo Soldiers, Risk). Ellery, I didn't know, but Lee Smith I did from my previous films and I felt that his experience and intelligence would be just what Tony needed at that point. With the speed with which he gained the respect of the camera crew and the onset crew it was evident that I was not the only one who realised that he had the strength to do what needed to be done. He clearly has an instinct to direct, not all writers do, but he does." (, accessed 17/04/04).

Australian Film and Value

It is a known fact that Australian films are insignificant competitors on the large scale American market. Although trends in production and distribution are changing, many local films continue to struggle due to a lack of demand. However, contemporary art films like The Rage in Placid Lake are slowly gaining a place on the world market not matter how small. This is proven with the buying of the film by 20th century Fox for release in the U.S. in May of 2004. One can only predict how the film will be received until such time as those box office figures become available. In light of the recent reception of Ned Kelly in the U.S. one can only hope that viewers of this Australian film are partial to the traditional Hollywood conventions.

Although the struggle remains, Australian films hold an important value in our society not only as a means of depicting the Australian talent through film but as a way of nurturing and maintaining the growth of the industry through new and existing writers and directors.

As part of the "teenpic" genre The Rage in Placid Lake holds areas of immense interest and value as a story of the struggle of youth in contemporary society. These messages hold significant value in the development of Australian films as world players through the support of the local film and television offices, distributors and the Australian Film Finance Corporation.

In addition to the value of the films messages, one must consider too the success of the film for Australia with its many awards, fantastic reviews and international festival presence. Hopefully this film may suggest that even due to a lack of funds and production significance it may still be a winner in the international market as it was in Australia.

The Rage in Placid Lake in relation to Australian cinema

An ideal teen movie would be one in which the central characters were explicitly aged between 13 and 19, in which the central concerns thematised were of great interest to teenagers, and which was made in such a way as to appeal to teenagers, for example by including music which appeals to teenagers and/or by shooting and editing in lively and energetic ways (Gillard, MED 231 Notes, Week 10, 2004). Similarly we can take "teen movie" to signify any film which deals with the drama or comedy of growing up in a specific social environment (Gillard, MED 231 Notes, Week 10, 2004). Neale highlights 'the rites of passage' narratives in teenpics as

"stories which placed their protagonists 'betwixt and between' adulthood and childhood, and which explored issues of autonomy, identity, allegiance and difference in the context of the teenage peer group on the one hand and adult society on the other, and in the ways in which - and the extent to which - hitherto generic norms were inflected or reworked in the process: these films in some fashion involve narrative conflict both over finding one's place within a relatively autonomous society of youths and over defining, negotiating and resisting differences between youth and adulthood" (2000, p.123).

If classified according to these definitions The Rage in Placid Lake is then ideally categorised as a teen-centred comedy/melodrama. By following Placid's struggle from childhood, through adolescence and into adulthood in relation to the social problems he faces, we are confronted with characteristic teen-centred issues in a comedic and melodramatic style.

As discussed earlier in the critical review, the film is centred on teen-issues of conformity, love, friendship, growing up, and being liked for who you really are. The audience is confronted with these issues through Placid's struggle to be 'normal' after an unconventional childhood and several encounters with school bullies from a very young age. In addition to this one is introduced to Placid's parents who are eccentric in their bohemian lifestyle and raising of their son. Most viewers, whether teenagers or not can relate to these issues in one way or another even though a teenpic is characteristically targeted to teenagers.

Once again the characteristic depictions of the central issues are done through the stylistic elements of the film, the use of music and the character and story development. In addition to this the melodramatic (drama in which the action is accompanied by music, to underline or emphasise the drama: to increase the emotional response of the audience, Gillard, 2004) and comedic (interlocking sequences of jokes and gags that place narrative in the foreground, Neale, 2000, p.66) elements of the film add a certain light-hearted seriousness in recognising issues of bullying, suicide, parents and growing up to be yourself.

Now that the film is classed at a typical teen-centred melodrama one must ask what makes it Australian? Although an obvious question, much debate is centred around what makes a truly Australian film. In this case there is no doubt about it's authenticity, although not depicting characteristic 'Australian' elements like landscape, mateship, lifestyle etc, the film, produced, directed, filmed and financed in Australia has an all Australian cast (with the exception of Miranda Richardson) , a considerable amount of acted 'drama', and to most viewers is recognisably Australian through language style and vocabulary.

Reference list

Written references

Neale, S. (2000) 'Major Genres', Chapter 3 Genre and Hollywood, Routledge: London, pp.51-149.

Gillard, G. (2004) MED 231 Australian Cinema, Lecture Notes: "What is an Australian Feature Film?", Week 5 "Melodrama", Week 10 "Teenpic", Murdoch University, Western Australia.

Internet References

Search Engine (accessed 9-17 April 2004)

Cinephilia (Australia) (Accessed 9/04/04)

Cinephilia (Australia) (Accessed 9/04/04)

Edinburgh International Film Festival, August 2003 (Accessed 9/04/04)

IF Review (Accessed 9/04/04)

Jigsaw Lounge (Accessed 9/04/04)

News.Com (Australia) (Accessed 9/04/04)

SBS Movie Show (Australia) (Accessed 9/04/04)

Triple J (Australia) (Accessed 9/04/04)

The Film Pie (Australia) (Accessed 9/04/04)

The Official Rage in Placid Lake Website (Accessed 9-17 April 2004)

Urban Cinefile (Australia) (Accessed 9/04/04)

Film References

Rage in Placid Lake, The, wr. dir. Tony McNamara, 2003.