Working Dog Productions is the closest thing Australia has comedy royalty. From their roots in sketch comedy on ‘The Late Show’, to the satire of ‘Frontline’ and the brilliant film ‘The Castle’. They’ve made a huge contribution to the entertainment industry in Australia and have kept us laughing since the mid-80s. For the uninitiated, Working Dog is comprised of writers/directors/performers Santo Cilauro, Rob Sitch, Jane Kennedy, Tom Gleisner and Michael Hirsh. These names may be foreign to anyone outside Australia but people have come to expect quality from Working Dog. Unfortunately, ‘Any Questions for Ben?’ is a huge misstep and is more like a cheap knockoff of a well-known brand.
Ben (Josh Lawson) is a successful twenty something who bounces between different jobs that he’s paid very well for. In between, he parties and sleeps around with different women, but that doesn’t seem to be enough, and he begins to question his life after meeting an old school friend Alex (Rachael Taylor).
The best way to describe most of the characters in ‘Any Questions of Ben?’ is ‘punch worthy’. Besides the pleasant inclusion of Daniel Henshall and a brief appearance from Rob Sitch, the characters and actors are a vacuous bunch of whiney overachieving pricks. We’re meant to feel sorry for the lead character, but Lawson makes him so unlikeable that you’re hoping the next soy chai latte he drinks is laced with arsenic. You can’t feel sorry for a guy who sleeps with models and then goes heli-skiing after doing a few laps around Melbourne in a Ferrari. Even the films love interest, Taylor, fares badly as a know-it-all United Nations worker who gives off the impression that her farts smell of fairy floss.
The plot barley goes anywhere and the film is pitched as romantic comedy but the film is missing both. Even with the help of the Hubble Telescope you’d be hard pressed to find anything romantic or funny in ‘Any Questions for Ben?’
Director Rob Sitch seems capable but doesn’t have anything decent to work with. The film gets clogged up with lots of Melbourne clichés (that was once parodied on ‘The Late Show’*) and there are endless musical cues to try and chip away emotion from the audience. Characters are sad – cue a sad song. A character makes a big announcement – cue happy song. At times it feels like you’re getting beaten into submission by the complete works of The John Butler Trio.
It boggles the mind how Working Dog went from the blue collar filmmaking of ‘The Castle’ to the neck scarf wearing douchebag filmmaking of ‘Any Questions for Ben?’ It’s a film made for the 1% who question their sweet life while sitting on a gold plated toilet. As big fan of Working Dog I feel I’ve been stabbed in the face by an old friend and intense ‘The Late Show: – Best Bits Champagne Edition’ DVD viewing is the only cure.
‘Any Questions for Ben?’ is now showing
The Popcorn Junkie
*’The Late Show’ skit that parodies Melbourne Cliches.