By Tim Kroenert
11 August 2022
Bruno (Damon Herriman) stands befuddled before a supermarket shelf stacked with innumerable varieties of tinned beans. He tries unsuccessfully to engage assistance from a store employee. But he’s speaking gibberish – as all the actors do in this delightfully absurdist comedy – and what he actually says depends on which version you’re watching.
If you’ve tuned to the subtitles written by Ronny Chieng and Celia Pacquola, he’s raging about the impossibility of choosing between so many kinds of beans. In Julia Davis’ interpretation, he’s complaining that there’s “no fish in the fish aisle”.
This device is a stroke of genius by director Armagan Ballantyne and writer-star Jackie van Beek. Having the actors speak a fake language and enlisting different comedians to pen their own unique subtitles adds layers of unhinged glee, and virtually demands repeat viewing — at the very least for the intrigue of seeing how different writers interpret the same essential scenario.
The scenario itself is fairly ordinary. Bruno and his wife Laura (van Beek) have problems. Laura is stressed at work, their sex life is kaput and it’s been years since they shared any emotional intimacy. At breaking point, they decide to escape to a compound in the wilderness for a couples’ retreat.
Here they encounter an eclectic assortment of other couples, who are enjoying the guileless sex- and body-positive tutelage of guru-like Bjorg (Jemaine Clement). Thoroughly shaken from their comfort zones, the buttoned-down pair are forced to face up to the ways in which they are both closer to, and further apart from, each other than they ever guessed.
Sex- and body-positivity are the orders of the day. The film’s frank approach to talk and acts of sex, and to nudity, are confronting. At the same time, it is heartening to see the diversity of relationships and bodies on display. Sure, the film is irreverent, but it is endlessly affectionate toward its characters. While their carnal high-jinks are often played for laughs, it is never at the expense of their humanity.
All the actors commit to the gibberish language with aplomb, giving emotional and narrative significance to the meaningless words. The whole thing on its face is ridiculous, but the characters themselves never entirely are.
This is especially true of Bruno and Laura. As portrayed by Herriman and van Beek, they feel like an authentic long-married couple, once deeply in love and genuinely trying to bridge the distance that has grown between them. Whichever version you watch, it is this emotional arc that grounds the story and allows its idiosyncrasies to be more than a gimmick.
Nude Tuesday is screening on Stan