Editor's Note: The new Oz film The Flipside is produced by old friend Sue Murray. Sue has worked in the film industry for forty years and her career is dotted with significant successes. Her latest production opens on 30 August. I haven't seen it but will be seeing it soon at the Randwick Ritz some Friday. Now you know. The notes below are taken from the film's press book.
“This is a film about contemporary women,” (director Marion) Pilowsky says, summing up the themes and tone of her film, “What it means to be an adult, what it means to be in relationships, what we do with ageing parents, particularly the obligations that women and daughters feel most keenly in a modern demanding world. There aren’t a lot of films that explore female ambivalence with comedic edge and I wanted to do that.”
Influenced by British and American independent films such as Notting Hill and Sideways – offbeat, charming, poignant and personal – Pilowsky wanted to bring that tone to a uniquely Australian story. “I thought, if there was a British indie and an American indie and they had a kind of Australian love child, what would it be? Because I don’t think Australia really does this kind of independent film.”
For Pilowsky, the uniqueness of the Australian experience in this context was about the contrasting outlooks on life – both superficial and deep beneath the skin – between Australians and Europeans.
“On the surface The Flip Side is about the visitors from hell,” says Pilowsky. “But underneath all of that are the ideas of ‘the grass isn’t always greener on the other side’ and ‘be careful what you wish for’.
It also explores issues that many women grapple with, such as contemplation of the road not taken. “What happens if your first love came back and you thought you might have a second chance at a different life? It looks at the decisions that modern women must make and the pressures they feel to succeed on every level. And I wanted it to be modern, fresh and bright that tonally was for an audience who love romantic comedies but wanted something uniquely relatable to their own lives.”
The Flip Side journey began in 2012 on that return to Adelaide from London. “Lee (Sellars) and I would often discuss original story ideas that appealed to us and I felt that a journey about a woman who had lived in the same town her entire life but felt perhaps there was something better for her ‘out there’ could be intriguing ground to explore.”
The script was developed over several years, during which Pilowsky and Sellars received a writer’s grant from the South Australian Film Corporation. Mindful of targeting not just a local but also an international audience, a Los Angeles script editor, Dylan Wilcox, was brought on board to work on the draft with them. “That was a turning point in the development of The Flip Side. Dylan pushed us to find the heart and soul of our female protagonist whilst retaining the comedy and amplifying the poignancy of the dramatic spine, in particular the relationship between mother and daughter.”
Eventually Sue Murray, who had been creatively consulting on the film since the first draft of the script, came on board as a producer alongside Marion’s regular producing partner from London, David Willing, now based in Los Angeles.
“There is no doubt in my mind that Sue’s and David’s unshakeable belief in me as a writer and director made this possible. Both of them had produced and creatively collaborated with me on my short film work in the UK and Australia. Our history and friendship gave us a foundation of trust and confidence alongside a communication shorthand that allowed us to really enjoy this adventure.” Pilowsky says.
Murray explains that her involvement in The Flip Side morphed from script consultant to executive producer to hands-on producer. She was increasingly fascinated by the project as it gained traction. “I could see that this would be a film that could be both entertaining and raise women’s issues. After being involved with a lot of very serious, socio-political films, I thought it would be refreshing change to do a relationship comedy with a female director and a largely female story.”
The character at the centre of the story is Veronica, known as Ronnie, played by Emily Taheny. “Ronnie is a woman whose life is spiralling out of control,” says Pilowsky. “Her restaurant is failing, she's in debt for thousands of dollars, she hasn't been able to pay the bill for her mother’s care home, and she doesn't feel that she can tell her boyfriend Jeff, about any of her troubles. Into this world comes an ex-boyfriend, Henry, with whom she had a torrid affair five years earlier and his gorgeous, sophisticated French girlfriend Sophie. And this creates the perfect storm for Ronnie and Jeff.”
Casting for such a tight-knit set of characters with intense personal dynamics was, therefore, the most crucial part of the pre-production process. “This film presented a unique casting challenge as an ensemble,” says Pilowsky. “And I wanted to find my Henry and Ronnie before I cast French Sophie and Australian Jeff.
Pilowsky had not been familiar with Taheny’s work until she noticed the sparkling comic actress in an episode of the television program True Story with Hamish & Andy. “I just thought she was hilarious; with tremendous dramatic and comedic chops! I’d never seen her before and later on the search for Ronnie I happened to be scrolling through her agent’s website saw the picture of Emily and I thought she looked familiar. Then I realised it was the actor whose work I had enjoyed so much and I thought I must see her. I went across to Melbourne and did a workshop with her and knew we had found our Ronnie.”
“It's not often that there's a protagonist that's a female in your age range who’s complex,” says Taheny about what appealed to her about playing Ronnie. “She's not your conventionally beautiful character. She's messy. She's got baggage that's she's dealing with. And there was a familiarity in the story in that she had a famous ex-boyfriend – I dated a comedian from the UK once and he came out to Australia and we went on a trip to the outback and it all fell apart. I thought there's enough similarity there, but then there's enough difference there, which would be a challenge for me, in that she's seemingly in control, she's confident. She's a chef, she owns her own restaurant, her own business, so she's tough.”
The complexity and layers of Ronnie were at the crux of Pilowsky’s concept. “I wanted this film to say something about women and how we live our internal lives. They are complicated, nuanced and often can feel isolated if their lives internally are at odds to what they are projecting to the outside world. Ronnie is an ambivalent woman with responsibilities that have brought her to the brink. But she hasn’t been able to share with Jeff partly because she believes that she has to fix everything on her own. Ronnie is a fixer, the one that gets things done. And, since her father ‘jumped ship’ 20 years ago, it has been her sole responsibility to look after her mother. Henry re-enters her life at the worst possible moment but triggers a possible escape plan out of her mess and reminds her of what could have been, the life she could have had with Henry in London.
“Getting this fine balance between Ronnie’s internal and external worlds was an incredible task for any actor. Ronnie has to be sympathetic; we have to have the audience on her side, even though Jeff, a lovely fellow who clearly adores her, has done nothing wrong. Ronnie’s actions really come from a fear of and insecurity around commitment. She does love Jeff but it scares her to believe in happiness and worse, that she might deserve it. Her mother’s legacy is a potent one, handed down through the generations and Ronnie feels she is unlovable.”