You may have heard about Dirt Music. It is one of many recent romantic films that have had the Nicholas Sparks connotation slapped on it. A Sparks film may be conventional, predictable, placid, and long— however, they aren’t outright boring.
Dirt Music was adapted from the novel of the same name by Tim Winton, and perhaps it should have remained untouched. The Western Australian thriller was repurposed into a romantic drama for the screen. However, this film isn’t so much a romance rather a very long, dull portrait of our two leads’ lives and how they happen to intersect. Georgie (Kelly Macdonald) is a woman who is in a tense and loveless relationship with Jim Buckridge (David Wenham), a fisherman who is a big deal for reasons. Some Godfather-like tendencies are alluded to as he seemingly owns some fish turfs. Then there is Lu Fox (Garrett Hedlund), who is very sweaty and very hot. So much so that it distracts from the attempted Australian accent— whether Hedlund actually really tried one is debatable because he very much just sounds like Garrett Hedlund the American. As for Georgie, Macdonald is very Scottish and no amount of accent work will hide that fact.
The film meanders at the beginning as we see Georgie sort of coping with her life, that is until she makes eye contact with Fox while he is secretly fishing on her boyfriends turf. A finger snap later they are in a hotel room making love. The key thing about films based on Sparks’ novels is that anything remotely close to a romance is instantly compared to his work in that the stories revolve around incredibly attractive people falling in love despite a myriad of absurd plot contrivances. However, what Sparks’ films do that Dirt Music does not is actually have the key couple communicate and that their romance is something that is worked towards. Georgie and Lu meet, bang, then drama erupts.
The film in many ways seems confused: is it a personal drama about two broken people whose lives intersect for a brief moment? Or is it a love story about two people coming together because they need or desire something from each other? While the film leans towards the former, it leaves the romance plot under-cooked and almost unnecessary. The split narrative between Georgie and Lu is also disappointing as there is very little done to make us really care about them. There is a lack of coherence throughout the film, and we are left wondering why any of it even matters. What is the journey that we are meant to undertake?
However, despite the story problems there is some really good film-making on display through some clever techniques that give the audience the information they need to understand Lu. Gregor Jordan visualises key emotional memories instead of having Lu or someone else recite the details. However, how Lu’s story unfolds does raise more questions than answers. Is he seeking repentance for past failings that happen to involve Buckridge? Poaching on Buckridge’s turf? Or hooking up with Buckridge’s girlfriend?
Ultimately, this film is neither intriguing as a romance or as an emotional drama. What we can appreciate is the utter ridiculousness of how hot it must be, how sweaty and tanned our leads are, and how delightfully blue Garrett Hedlund’s eyes are. Also, Kelly Macdonald is also incredibly underrated and deserves better projects that utilise her talents— which don’t include mastering an Australian accent. Despite a herculean effort from our leads, neither can successfully steer this ship towards anything resembling a good film.
Dirt Music is available on VOD now
by Ferodsa Abdi
Ferdosa (she/her) is a lifetime student of cinema. Three of her current favourite films are: Addams Family Values, Cinderella (2015), and Emma. (2020). On Twitter you can see her support women-led cinema, her ongoing love/hate relationship with Disney, her totally healthy obsession with Eva Green, and her great admiration for Guillermo del Toro.