Cinema Australia Original Content:
Standing Up For Sunny
Written and Directed by Steven Vidler
Starring RJ Mitte, Philippa Northeast, Italia Hunt and Sam Reid
Produced by Jamie Hilton, Michael Pontin and Drew Bailey
“Tender, clever and very, very funny.”
by Matthew Eeles
It’s hard to believe Standing Up For Sunny is director Steven Vidler’s first film since Blackrock – a heartbreaking high school drama starring Simon Lyndon, Rebecca Smart and Heath Ledger in his first feature film role. Twenty-two years later and Vidler doesn’t miss a beat with this tender, clever and very, very funny romantic comedy.
Standing Up For Sunny follows Travis (RJ Mitte), a quick-witted young man with cerebral palsy and some serious anger management issues, who agrees to help write new material for the slightly damaged, amateur comedienne, Sunny (Philippa Northeast). Sparks fly as Travis and Sunny reveal themselves to each other through the therapy of stand-up comedy.
Vidler’s script, with its hilarious one liners and razor sharp dialogue, infuses tragedy and comedy with deft precision. The film’s antics may remind some viewers of Romi Trower’s unique and colourful, What If It Works?, were Luke Ford’s OCD sufferer Adrian falls for Anna Samson’s Grace who has Multiple Personality Disorder.
RJ Mitte, best known for his performance as Walter White Jr in Breaking Bad, has developed into a serious actor and his performance here is phenomenal. All too often able-bodied actors are cast as people with disabilities so the fact that Mitte has cerebral palsy in real life makes the exploration of his condition through comedy much more veracious and unfeigned. Philippa Northeast breaks free from the mould of soap star to deliver an impressive performance as the film’s title character.
It’s a shame that some of the supporting characters are underdeveloped, especially Italia Hunt’s Gordo – Travis’ blind roomie. Gordo also narrates the beginning of the film before disappearing for most of it to make way for brief cameos from the likes of Radha Mitchell, Matt Nable, Josh McConville and Arj Barker and Barry Humphries as themselves.
It’s refreshing to see genuine disabilities represented in Australian cinema – most recently in Stevie Cruz-Martin and Daniel Monk’s Pulse and now with Standing Up For Sunny. This kind of diversity on our screen succeeds in challenging our perception and attitude towards people with a disability, but Standing Up For Sunny’s real strength is that it reminds us that we should be laughing more, even if it’s at ourselves.
Standing Up For Sunny will screen at the Sydney Film Festival from Wednesday, 12 June with a national release date yet to be announced.
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