Ball of Twine
Remember that scene in the The Blues Brothers when Jake directs his newly reformed band to Bob’s Country Bunker with the promise of a reunion gig? Only he’s completely lying, only wanting to get back on stage after a stint in prison? Garage Days introduces its motley band of 20something musicians similarly—on their way to a gig they’re not even booked to play. The difference is this: while The Blues Brothers takes an hour and 10 minutes to reach this point, so we get to know Jake and his good old boys, Garage Days gets to this point after only 13 minutes. Already, you know these guys will never make it on stage.
Alex Proyas, Aussie director of The Crow (1994) and Dark City (1998), comes out of his moody cave with this flick about a band’s efforts to find fame. It’s bright and colorful, with beautiful kids dancing around and making hip jibes whenever the camera looks their way. But while it’s good to see what Proyas can do with the lights turned on, the film never quite coheres. The mildly interesting ambitions of singer/songwriter Freddy (Kick Gurry) compete with multiple plotlines and underdeveloped characters.
Freddy just wants everyone to love his music, or so he tells his best friend and guitarist’s girl, Kate (Maya Stange). He worries this won’t happen, especially as live music in Sydney’s pubs and clubs becomes a thing of the past with the emergence of poker machines and cheap DJs. Kate reassures Freddy that his dreams are worth fighting for; she understands. She’s so in tune with Freddy’s sentiment, in fact, that she kisses him, sending the film’s complex spiral of battling storylines into action.
The battle goes a little something like this: after that fateful kiss, Freddy finds himself in love with Kate, only he’s dating his bassist Tanya (Pia Miranda), who’s got a thing for drummer Lucy (Brent Stiller), who in turn is experimenting with drugs; and Kate is dating guitarist Joe (Chris Sadrinna), who’s fighting off ideas of suicide put in his head by an imaginary mistress. If that wasn’t enough, Kate soon finds out she’s pregnant by Joe, who decides to prove his worth as a father by adopting a melon with eyes painted on it. And, of course, there’s the band’s all-important dream of getting out of the garage and onto the stage.
This dream gets a shot in the arm thanks to a chance meeting between Freddy and Shad Kern (Marton Csokas), famous and influential manager of Sprint, the hottest band in Australia. After several unnecessary twists and turns, including an attempt to bribe Tanya’s parents for the cash to make a demo and blackmailing Kerns, Freddy and his band end up on stage at Homebake, one of Sydney’s biggest rock festivals—only they’re doing it illegally, masquerading as crew members. In another movie, seeing the band play in front of a crowd of thousands (the film’s final scenes were shot at last year’s Homebake) would be the ultimate cool. But this one offers up yet one more new idea, another pointless bit of string to an already weighty ball of twine.
Proyas and co-writers Dave Warner and Michael Udesky just don’t know where to stop. Their tale of success at any cost is all action and no substance. The characters all seem to hate each other (even the ones who are sleeping together) constantly bickering and berating each other, making it next to impossible for the audience to cheer them on. The movie races along, struggling to fit everything in, so we don’t get to know anybody, even Freddy. The only way these guys can achieve their dreams, it seems, is through backdoor shenanigans, so that their eventual good fortune means very little in conventional terms.
Garage Days is not, as its title might imply, an homage to the many unsigned garage bands banging away at youth clubs and school dances. It’s a complicated mess that appears to root for the underdog while repeatedly booting it in the hindquarters. If all those struggling bands willing to play the annual picnic at the city dump just to be heard are anything like Proyas’ group of contemptuous prats, it’s no wonder they don’t make it big.