Cosi — Film Information and Critical Review
Joanne Ladiges, 201756E
Length: 100 mins.
Adapted from a play by Louis Nowra
Released by: Miramax in 1996
Distributed by: Roadshow (Aust.)
Rating: M / R (due to language - overseas)
Lewis: Ben Mendelsohn
Roy: Barry Otto
Julie: Toni Collette
Lucy: Rachel Griffiths
Nick: Aden Young
Errol: Colin Friels
Cherry: Jacki Weaver
Ruth: Pamela Rabe
Henry: Paul Chubb
Zac: Colin Hay
Doug: David Wenham
Kirner: Tony Llewellyn-Jones
Sandra: Kerry Walker
Minister for Health: Robin Ramsay
Bernard Goldman: Henry Maas
Air Wrestler: Raymond Walsh
Electrician: Lawrence Woodward
Rigger: Brian Ellison
Seamstress: Tamara Kuldin
Carpenter: Dennis Allard
Painter: Toni Moran
Knucklehead: David Anthony
Ms. Spock: Skye Wansey
Ballroom Man: Nick Penn
Closed Ward Nurse: Damian Monk
Nurse at Concert: Rachel Maza
Mens Ward Nurse: Robert Noble
Pink Lady: Samantha McDeed
Cussing Patient: Michael Robertson
Student Actor: Samantha Rebillet
Waitress: Anita Hegh
Mental Patient 1: Paul Mercurio
Mental Patient 2: Greta Scacchi
Lewis: Ben Mendelsohn
Director: Mark Joffe
Producers: Richard Brennan, Timothy White
Original Music: Stephen Endelman
Non-original Music: Mozart, Wagner
Cinematography: Ellery Ryan
Film Editor: Nicholas Beauman
Production Design: Chris Kennedy
Art Direction: Hugh Bateup
Costume Design: Tess Schofield
Makeup Artist: Noriko Watanabe
Dialogue Editors: Wayne Pashley, Libby Villa
Visual Effects: Simon Carr
Digital Compositor: Animal Logic
Assistant Camera: Sally Eccleston
Production Co-Ordinator, Additional Unit: Jacinta Hayne
Still Photographer: Philip Le Masurier
I couldn’t find the exact date of the Australian Cinema release, but Cosi appears to have been released in the week ending April 3, 1996. According to various Web sites, namely Hollywood.com http://www.hollywood.com/movies/cosi and E! Online http://www.eonline.com/Facts/Movies/0,60,45613,00.html, the release dates were; cinema — 11th April 1997 and video - December 16, 1997. However, these are probably American release dates as they are an entire year after the film was first released here in Australia.
Box Office Figures
In its first week, Cosi ranked 5th at the National Box Office. In this week it showed on 117 screens (at least) around the country and made $675, 629.
In 1996 Cosi was the 3rd most popular Australian film at the Australian Box Office. According to the AFC website http://www.afc.gov.au, it was ranked 43rd in the 100 top Australian Films at the Australian Box Office of all time (as of Dec. 30, 2000) and all up it made $A 2, 896,980. However, understandably, Cosihad to compete against other films, mostly from Hollywood, and was not a huge success. To quote Gillard (2001, p. 65), "[I]t was a film without legs. It died…after a fortnight on Perth screens." Despite its mediocre reception at home, at the 14th annual Miami Film Festival (Jan 31- Feb 9 1997) Cosi was an "instant sellout" (see www.filmmag.com/nonink)
There appeared to be no interviews with Mark Joffe regarding Cosi; most interviews were concerned with his more recent film The Matchmaker
(1997). At the time of the film’s release, I found an interview with Rachel Griffiths in Cinema Papers No. 109, April 1996, p.6. called "Running the Gamut", by Margaret Smith. In this issue there was also a review by Peter Malone (p.41).
Cosi is well represented online, more so it seems than in the print world. There are heaps of reviews and I was surprised at how much information came from American sites, whilst being disappointed to find little or no information on some of the prominent Australian film sites, like Urban Cinefile and OzMovies. A bibliography of helpful sites were:
http://www.hollywood.com —Synopsis and review
http://us.imdb.com — Full cast list, synopsis, reviews, AFI award list and crew
http://rambles.net/cosi.html — Detailed film review
http://www.eonline.com — Summary, release dates and viewer ratings
http://www.videoflicks.com — Background information and director’s history
http://www.afc.org.au — Box office figures
Collecting of Information
I went about collecting the online information by typing in the keywords Cosi/Mark Joffe into the Yahoo search engine and looking through the sites that were brought up. Then I worked my way through several of the film sites to find the reviews on my particular film. Sometimes there was no depth to the film's information or the links were irrelevant and only contained the keywords once or twice in largely unrelated articles.
Searching for information in print proved to be the hardest part; there was not much I could find. I tried typing in Mark Joffe, Cosi, and broad keywords like Australian Films into the Library catalogue and came up empty-handed. In the end I went to the reference section and searched manually through copies of Cinema Papers and Encore.
I think part of the problem was that this is not as popular as many well known Australian films — I found it significant that O’Regan did not refer once toCosi in Australian National Cinema.
Critical Review of Film and its Literature
Film Critical Review
Cosi was originally a stage play by the same name, written by Louis Nowra and set in 1972, but for the screen version, a lot of the original material was rewritten to bring the script up to 1990s. "We rewrote a lot of that stuff, mainly because, in adapting the play to film, it was brought up from 1972 to the present day". (Rachel Griffiths as quoted in Smith, 1996).The result is quite a funny film that I feel doesn’t entirely hang together, but then what can you expect from a bunch of people who aren’t really hanging together themselves?
Lewis Reilly (Ben Mendelsohn), a University dropout, manages to land a job as a stage director in a Sydney mental institution. Those in charge of the mental hospital think it would be a good bit of "therapy" for the inmates to stage a performance of some sort: a talent show or similar. But Roy (Barry Otto), one of the ward’s longest-staying patients (and one of the craziest) insists the play be nothing less than a grand staging of Mozart’s opera Cosi Fan Tutte.This would be fair enough, but the potential cast is full of manic-depressives and pyromaniacs and no one can speak Italian or sing opera.
The film follows Lewis’s determination to get the play up and running, to the extent that his personal life and relationship with his student lawyer girlfriend (Rachel Griffiths) begins to suffer. In one scene, Lewis is left yelling "I’m not mad — he’s [Doug- played by David Wenham] the mad one!!". One can’t help but wonder just who’s right. The theme of the two women in Mozart’s opera being unfaithful to their lovers is tested in Lewis’s life when his "friend" Nick invites himself to stay at their house. On the whole, Cosi is a feelgood comedy movie, cleverly updated to fit in with the 1990s filmmaking preoccupations that surrounded it. It’s about having goals and achieving them.
The movie features an all-star cast, is entertaining and has some touching and funny moments, but is a little lacking in the fact that it becomes slightly mundane toward the end. "[E]vents become more predictable and Reilly’s irregulars start falling into type" (Miles O’Dometer, 1996?). However, it is definitely an underrated and unfortunately largely unheard-of Australian film.
Critics’ reaction to Cosi was mixed. As an Australian film, it was simultaneously praised and bagged by Australian reviewers when it was released. Peter Malone (1996, p.41) writes of it in Cinema Papers: "There are some very funny moments…The ensemble acting is excellent with too many fine performers to name and praise…Cosi is highly entertaining, a fine example of complete ensemble filmmaking". Yet in the same review Malone also states: "The screenplay attempts some parallels between the central characters’ relationships and the fidelity of the opera’s libretto. This is the least satisfactory aspect of the film. It is not developed and the resolution is too quickly pat". One gains the impression that critics want to like Cosi, but can’t or don’t. The same mixed reaction can be seen in reviews from critics of other countries (I assume Miles O’Dometer is probably American, or perhaps British, as he makes a point of telling readers that Sydney is a city in Australia). O’Dometer says of Cosi: "[A]n otherwise entertaining film with a whimsical plot and some offbeat performances becomes so intricate that it’s in danger of dying of complications. What’s worse, they’re fairly standard complications…" Overall, he describes the film as "A little disappointment maybe, but nothing to not write home about." O’Dometer also describes Cosi as being a potentially good film — "Its intentions are good, its performances are solid…", but nonetheless one that doesn’t quite make the grade. "As it is there’s no shame in digging for gold and striking silver". Leonard Maltin (1999) says Cosi is an "Unusual but eventually tiresome comedy", but praises the film’s cast as "familiar faces".
The mediocre reception given to Cosi by the critics is reflected in the film’s box office takings. The film made just over $A 2,890,000 — I could not find information of how much the film actually cost to make, but given the nature of the production (it was a modest Australian film with no high-tech special effects to boost the cost) it was likely to have been around this amount, if not a little higher. This means that the film probably didn’t make its money back - it was a "flop". Of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean the film was bad; it just means it didn’t make enough money at the cinema to ‘break even’. There is reason to believe the video is still being viewed, however. It is on sale online, is regularly checked out at my local video store. Due to the film’s presence on the Internet and its achievement of winning an AFI Award in 1996 for Best Adapted Screenplay as well as receiving nominations for Best Achievement in Editing and Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Barry Otto), we cannot write it off entirely as being unsuccessful.
Production and Release Circumstances
As previously mentioned, Cosi had to undergo a dramatic change from play to film. Not many Australian films have come from plays; Rachel Griffiths mentions, "I saw Cosi as a play and thought, ‘This would be a great film’" (in Smith, 1996). The most significant change in this respect, though, would be the change from ‘70s to ‘90s. Griffiths makes the point of the "outside world and the politics" being "very different" in the 1970s to the 1990s. Cosi is clearly a very 1990s film; it has the cosmopolitanism, "quirkiness", "eccentricity" and "individuality" that O’Regan mentions (1998, p.9).
But Cosi still did not do well at the box office. It did have a tough time competing against other films released at the same time, though — it had to compete for viewers against such Hollywood blockbusters as Jumanji and Broken Arrow, 12 monkeys and To Die For. As well as facing competition from Hollywood, Cosi was released when Chris Noonan’s "Aussie blockbuster" Babe was still being screened at the cinemas. Its box office was therefore somewhat limited — it is true that it did not have the same intended audience as Babe (Or did it? The audience for all Australian films is initially the Australian public — but as we know Babe was a children’s / family film), but Cosi would still have had to compete against films with higher budgets, more advertising and with greater stars (of Hollywood magnitude).
Prior Work of Mark Joffe and Principal Cast
Cosi comes perhaps as a middle point to Mark Joffe’s career. Born in Russia in 1956, Joffe immigrated to Australia, and directed two TV series in the 1980s, Carson’s Law (‘83) and The Fast Lane (’85). He then went on to direct "Watch the Shadows Dance", also known as Nightmaster, in 1986 in the USA, before directing the TV mini-series The Great Bookie Robbery, also in that year. Joffe’s first film was Grievous Bodily Harm, in 1988. After that he directed Shadows of the Cobra, (’89, TV) and in 1990, the TV-screened More Winners: Boy Soldiers. His next film was Spotswood, in 1991. This film is significant because it was also Toni Collette’s first film; it is possible that Collette’s and Joffe’s association in this film may have led to Collette gaining her part in Cosi. After Cosi, Joffe directed the Matchmaker in 1997 and, in 2001, is directing as well as producing the Man Who Sued God.
Cosi, therefore, would have been Joffe’s third feature film. The cast is also a very experienced one; Toni Collette undoubtedly got her big break in Muriel’s Wedding (P.J. Hogan, 1994). Rachel Griffiths was also in Muriel’s, Barry Otto had been in Strictly Ballroom (Baz Luhrmann, 1994).
Many of the actors from Cosi have gone on to other projects and are still furthering their careers. Collette has since been in a number of Hollywood productions, Griffiths is still at the forefront of Australian films. Some are acting in different media; Ben Mendelsohn has appeared in many TV commercials. David Wenham starred in The Boys, also with Collette, and is probably now most famous for his role as Diver Dan in SeaChange.
General Position and Value of Australian Films
According to the example given by Cosi, from looking at the film’s critical uptake and market horizon, it would appear that many people think as my ex-boyfriend Jason does: "I hate Australian films!". As we have already seen, critics’ reaction to the film was mixed but tended to be slightly unfavourable, both in Australia and overseas, it performed poorly at the Australian box office in terms of audiences and probably did not make its money back.
This could be thought of as typical of the way Australians regard Australian movies. "Australians routinely hold Hollywood film-making, British cinema and television and the European and now Asian cinema in higher esteem than the local product " (O’Regan. 1996, p.215). It is true that most Australians would rather go and see Hollywood movies than Australian films at the cinema; this can be seen in an analysis of Australian box-office figures. In 2000, according to the AFC, (Feb. 2001), of the top 50 films at the Australian box office, only four of these were Australian!
However, not all Australian films are as unsuccessful as Cosi appeared to be. Every now and then a modest Australian film becomes more successful than those creating it dare to hope for — these films are known as ‘sleepers’ — "low budget films that exceed…all expectations for success." (O’Regan 1998, p9). Examples of highly successful Australian films are not hard to find — take Peter Faiman’s Crocodile Dundee (1986). This film was "the most successful film internationally in its year of release and the most successful foreign film ever in the US market" (O’Regan 1996, p83).
Cosi is probably a better example of the mediocre films that are sometimes made in Australia. The film was probably set up to be a ‘sleeper’ — the back cover even contained references to other successful Australian films which preceded it (namely Priscilla — [Elliot, 1994,] and Muriel’s), but did not live up to the expected success.
English Language Cinema
Australian Cinema is undoubtedly a Medium-sized English Language cinema, and because of the status that goes with a cinema in this position, Australian films must "compete with, imitate, oppose, complement and supplement" (O’Regan 1996, p.49) the dominant English-language cinema — Hollywood.
In the 1990s, Australian filmmakers had more of a policy of "opposing, complementing and supplementing" Hollywood, rather than attempting to mimic Hollywood genres as was done to some extent in the 1980s. Cosi, as with many Australian films of the decade, attempted to address issues not usually dealt with in Hollywood movies, and in a way not often expressed in Hollywood films. The formula appeared to have worked for many films made in the 1990s (Muriel’s Wedding, Priscilla,) but not so for Cosi. Cosi also was an example of the left-of-centre theme that generally underlined 1990s Australian films. This ‘quirkiness’ made 1990s Australian films marketable to other English-speaking nations like America as a ‘novelty’, but still the films were not so ‘off-the-wall’ that non-Australian English-speaking people would not understand them or find them entertaining. In this way, Australian films have to accomplish a difficult balancing act, attempting to be Australian enough to be unique, but mainstream enough to be marketed overseas.
Cosi is a film that perhaps did not perform the balancing act as well as hoped, but it is still an interesting film, and typical of what was occurring in the Australian film industry in the 1990s. Through looking at the film text itself, the surrounding circumstances the film came into, and the critics’ reaction to the film, we can gain insight into the Australian film landscape and the general perception of Australian films.
Australian Film Commission website. http://www.afc.org.au
Gillard, G. (2001) H231 Australian Cinema: Unit Information and Study Guide. Perth, Murdoch University Press, p.65.
Malone, P. "Cosi"- Review in Cinema Papers, No. 109, April 1996, p.41.
Maltin, L. "Cosi" — review, 1999. http://www.hollywood.com/maltin/c/cosi-1996.htm
O’Dometer, M. "Cosi" — review, 1996? http://rambles.net/cosi.html
O’Regan, T, (1996.) Australian National Cinema, New York/ London, Routledge.
O’Regan, T. (1998.) "Australian Cinema in the 1990s" in Peter Tapp [ed.] and James Sabine [assoc. ed] Australian Feature Films, Melbourne: Informit, Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology and the Australian Catalogue of New Films and Videos Ltd. Cd-rom and OzFilm site. http://kali.murdoch.edu.au/~cntinuun/film/OzFilm.html
Smith, M. "Running the Gamut" in Cinema Papers, No. 109, April 1996, p.6.