Directed by: Jeff Balsmeyer
Starring: Rhys Ifans, Miranda Otto, Justine Clarke, Rhys Muldoon, John Batchelor, Frank Magee
In a sane world, this utterly charming, sweet little fantasy of a movie would boost Rhys Ifans to stardom. Of course, this isn't a sane world, and hardly anyone is going to see this film, so that's not likely to happen.
But for anyone lucky enough to catch Danny Deckchair, the notion that Ifans is merely a character actor best suited to play the over-the-top eccentrics of Notting Hill and Formula 51 should be shattered for all time. Oh, his Danny Morgan in Deckchair is still something of an eccentric, especially in the early parts of the film, but there's an element to Ifans' appearance and performance that I've never seen him display before. I'd call it star quality.
And Ifans isn't the only reason to see this film. First-time writer/director Jeff Balsmeyer has crafted an almost wholly winning film that's somewhere between a Frank Capra picture and The Wizard of Oz with an Australian twist.
You might have heard the story of American Larry Walters, who tied about 45 helium-filled weather balloons to a lawn chair and set himself aloft. For Walters, it was a kind of publicity stunt that earned him appearances on talk shows -- and fines from the FAA. From this real-life story, Balsmeyer has concocted a fictional tale about a much put-upon cement worker from Sydney who (more or less jokingly) decides to try this stunt when his selfish girlfriend, Trudy (Justine Clarke, Bootmen), does him out of his vacation.
There's no indication that Danny thinks this will really work, and he certainly doesn't expect it to work as well as it does. "I'm trying to get back to Kansas," he wisecracks to a neighbor. In reality, he's on his way to a kind of Oz, where he will meet a woman named Glenda (Miranda Otto, Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King). Somehow I doubt that name was an accidental choice.
Balsmeyer's years as a storyboard artist for other people's movies serve him well, as evidenced in Danny's unplanned trip to the little town of Clarence. The images of him floating through the night sky in the midst of a fireworks display are nothing short of magical; and yet, compared with most of today's elaborate effects, these are simply achieved, which adds a kind of freshness to it all.
Magic of a different kind takes place once he lands, as Danny transforms from societal misfit into something akin to a leading man. (Cleaned up, Ifans resembles a cross between onetime British pop star and film director Mike Sarne and the young Gerard Depardieu). There's other magic, too, in the unforced quirkiness of the plot, which has the town folk mistake Danny's firework-induced plunge to earth for a U.F.O. This then causes the town's meter-maid, Glenda, whose tree he's crashed into, to palm him off as an old professor of hers on a visit.
Sure, the business of Danny "finding himself" and winning over the populace of Clarence is as old as the hills, but it's done with such assurance and grace that it's hard to mind very much. The film does take an unexpected turn in its last act, when you almost think things won't follow the expected path. In a Capraesque move (rather like the ending of Lost Horizon, but with greater closure) the story gets where it needs to go by this untraditional route. In the end, Danny Deckchair is just right in what it does and how it does it.
It's a film that will appeal to anyone who ever felt like just chucking it all and floating away -- in other words, just about everyone.
-- reviewed by Ken Hanke