There is a category of movie we should talk about more often: The Saturday Night Special. The Perfect Rental. It is a small movie, quirky, with interesting characters, and a story that sticks with you. You can watch it sideways; there are few glossy production values or superior special effects that would force you to sit straight up on the sofa. It’s the kind of movie you might not love for $8.50, but at $3 for two nights it’s a bargain.
Rob Sitch’s Australian import, The Castle, defines the genre. It’s a bright little gem that will end up in "Employees’ Favorites" bins in video stores across the country.
The Castle is a comedy about never giving up. Super optimist Darryl Kerrigan (Michael Caton) is the patriarch of a family of six on the outskirts of Melbourne. More precisely he, his wife, daughter, and two of three sons live right next to the airport in a slapped-together bungalow built on a toxic landfill. "Location, location, location," Darryl says, "and here we are right next to the airport! Convenient if we ever want to go anywhere!" Their modest home may not look like much, but it’s their castle.
So when they are informed that their home, and their neighbors’ as well, have been "compulsorily acquired" for the purpose of an airport expansion, Darryl refuses to knuckle under. He hires Dennis (Tiriel Mora), an inept local lawyer, to represent him, even though Darryl’s eldest son Wayne (Wayne Hope), also defended by Dennis, is now serving an eight year term in prison. But Darryl always sees the bright side of things. He has faith in Dennis and in the entire legal system.
Sadly Dennis is an execrably bad lawyer. Losing appeal after appeal, the Kerrigan’s case seems hopeless until they run into master constitutional lawyer Lawrie Hammill (Charles Tingwell). Hammill takes the case all the way to Australia’s Supreme Court where something else happens that is absolutely necessary in a Saturday Night Special: the good guy wins.
Imagine a Jim Jarmusch movie, complete with cheery, personable characters. You have to love Darryl’s still-infatuated wife Sal (Anne Tenney) and their neighbor Farouk (Costas Kilias). It is Beirut-bred Farouk who has the best response to a thug sent by the land developers to try to threaten Darryl and his neighbors: "He say he send his friend to see me. I tell him I send my friend to see him, too. My friend put bomb under his f___ing car. Then we all be friends."
Darryl’s daughter Tracey (Sophia Lee) is very good, taking seriously her position as the only member of the family with any advanced education (cosmetology). Likewise Darryl’s son Dale (Stephen Curry) is full of aphorisms about his beloved dad. When we travel to Darryl’s getaway spot on a dreary little almost-dry lake where Darryl likes to fish and race his motorboat, Dale tells us "Dad says fishing is 10% brains, 95% muscle, and the rest good luck."
If you like this last line you’ll love this film. The dry humor sneaks up on you. It takes a few minutes to settle into the laid back Aussie pace, but once you do The Castle ends up making you feel like a king. It is easy to put yourself in Darryl Kerrigan’s floppy slippers, lazing in the family room on Saturday night, a yard-sale beer stein in one hand and a remote control in the other. The Castle is in the VCR. Everything is right with the world.