Set and shot entirely in Footscray, a diverse and multicultural inner-city suburb of Melbourne, this well-meaning ensemble film follows 14 interwoven storylines, giving snapshots into what would be a typical day in the life of each of its characters.
Out with the glamour of golden sands and in with grey pavements and mundane tram commutes, the central action of the film revolves around the eponymous pawn shop, where everyman Aussie Les (John Brumpton) chats, banters and barters with customers of wide-ranging backgrounds. Among them are Les’s old friend Harry (Tony Rickards), who spends his retirement hanging around the shop, Paige (Daniel Frederikson), a funny and feisty transgender woman, Les’s East Asian girlfriend Lai (Ngoc Phan), and local bookstore worker Kate (Maeve Dermody), whose fortuitously broken glasses set up the inevitable romantic connection with Les’s downtrodden assistant Danny (Damien Hill, who wrote the screenplay).
Its down-to-earth realism and sincere affection for its characters pays off, even when the script and plot sometimes let it down. Managing this many characters and storylines is difficult enough even for the most veteran directors, and director Paul Ireland – helming a film for only the second time – sometimes struggles in the execution of what’s a considerably tricky task. The ensemble drama is a notoriously difficult thing to get right, with the line that separates affecting drama and sentimental soap an all too easy one to cross. Unfortunately, the film at times lacks the subtlety and nuance required to pull off such a task.
But it’s during the film’s low-key moments where it succeeds the most. Les and Harry’s relationship – with their affectionate bickering and the pleasure they take in taking the piss out of each other – is something most viewers would recognise among most of their older men in their families. The two men clearly go back years, and there’s a poignancy in some of the sincerer moments between the two, particularly in a scene where Les, having walked Harry to the door, looks out upon the luxury apartments across the street and remarks, ‘a lot of memories, eh? It’s yuppies in shoeboxes now’. To which Harry’s reply is, ‘fucking cunts’.
Pawno is out now in selected cinemas and available on digital download.
Dir: Paul Ireland
Scr: Damien Hill
Cast: John Brumpton, Maeve Dermody, Damien Hill, Tony Rickards, Daniel Frederikson, Ngoc Phan
Music: Tristan Dewey, Tai Jordan
Running time: 89 min