Lowdown: A successful twenty something dude figures out the emptiness of his life.
I was attracted to Any Questions for Ben for all the wrong reasons. It’s Australian, it’s directed by the guy who did the legendary The Castle, it’s set in Melbourne, and it features Rachael Taylor. Therefore it must be good? To my surprise, it was. Very much so.
Any Questions for Ben? follows Ben (Josh Lawson), a 27 year old Melbournian about whom one has to say he has it all. He gets paid lots for doing essentially nothing (product branding); he’s got lots of friends and family; and girls flock at him, so much so he never had to ask one out and he never stays with the same one for more than three months. It doesn’t take long at all for us to figure out the guy’s an asshole that could not care less about the people and the world around him as he’s busy indulging life and taking it easy. He even built himself mechanisms to support this lifestyle of his, like surrounding himself with friends that tell him he’s the best and avoid any kind of responsibility or any other form of adult like thinking.
Ben starts to figure out there is something not quite right with his life at this night where he’s invited to talk about his achievements before his former high school. What an honor! However, the kids seem awfully interested in the deeds of Alex (Rachael Taylor) instead. Alex is a former classmate of Ben’s who uses to live in the unnoticeable shadows, but is now an activist lawyer working for the UN at Yemen to help out people with real problems. When question time comes, no one has any questions for Ben. You can probably guess where the drama would lead on from here. After all, unless your movie is called Red Dog you don’t cast an actress like Taylor for token roles.
So yes, I liked Any Questions for Ben quite a lot, probably much more than it deserves for its cinematic qualities. A lot of it has to do with being set in Melbourne and featuring, amongst others, areas I live, work and hang out at. There is more to it, though.
The problem at the core of Any Questions for Ben? is an authentic one that I see everywhere I go. I used to see it in the mirror, too, but I think my personal problem was solved upon meeting my partner (and definitely upon having a child). The issue at hand, as director Rob Sitch says on the Blu-ray’s supplementals, is that in our day and age there is no pressure on twenty somethings to settle down. Previous generations were too busy struggling to make ends meet to have this "problem"; we have this new age problem to deal with by virtue of being materialistically better off. So we just go a-drifting, and in our consumerism driven society this drifting usually takes us nowhere fast. Some people find their comfort in religion; yours truly took a while to figure that in an otherwise indifferent universe any meaning or substance in this life can only come from within through the meaning I myself create. In the movie it takes an Alex for Ben to realize where meaning can be derived from; he’s lucky there, too.
Yet another reason I liked and identified with Any Questions for Ben is its distinct similarity to my current favourite TV show, Chuck. Like Chuck, we have a hero trapped in a world that’s beneath him; like Chuck, it takes an extraordinary beautiful and talented woman to take him out of his misery (with Taylor performing the role previously reserved for another Aussie, Yvonne Strahovski). Like Chuck, it takes an agonizing while for the two to realize they are the answer to each other’s questions. Unlike Chuck, however, the character of the female is a strong one in the sense that she has a life by her own rights; she is not just your average Hollywood pretty face. That is probably my biggest problem with Chuck, but it’s not like Any Questions for Ben avoids criticism: early on, the filmmakers seem to go out of their way to give Taylor a geeky like look, working hard to hide Taylor's good looks (later on she transforms to full glamor mode). I guess it would take a while for feminism to be properly represented on the big screen, but Any Questions for Ben is surely better than most of everything else out there. Oh, I almost forgot: Any Questions for Ben's mix of feel good music is virtually indistinguishable from Chuck's.
Yes, my “patriotism” is showing, but I think I can justify it. It comes down to Hollywood’s stereotyping women while the rest of the world is trying to come of age, Ben style.
Best scene 1: One of Ben’s “friends” advises him the message to the school kids should be that life is all about winning and crushing your opponent in the process. He should know, he drives a Ferrari.
Best scene 2: Ben, who is now interested in Alex but is still too tied up to his meaningless ways, confronts an Alex armed with a Doctors Without Borders activist friend who was also an Olympian. That’s tough. That’s also a scene I found myself in once or twice (albeit against less formidable/admirable competition).
Overall: I enjoyed the drama, the acting, and the self-looking ponderings this Melbourne based movie eschewed. I’ll therefore risk life and limb and give it 4 out of 5 stars.