Critical Review and Bibliography
By Ronan O'Connell
Part 1: Film Information
Running Time: 92 minutes
Mick Molloy: Jack Simpson
Samuel Johnson: Dave Jackson
Bill Hunter: Stan Coombs
Monica Maughan: Eileen Musgrove
Frank Wilson: Len Johnson
John Clarke: Bernie Fowler
Judith Lucy: Nance Brown
Lois Ramsey: Gwen Penny
Esme Melville: Mrs Jenkins
Peter Aanensen: Edgar Sewell
Bob Hornery: Ron Marsh
John Flaus: Cliff Carew
PRODUCER: Stephen Luby, Mick Molloy
DIRECTOR: Paul Moloney
SCRIPT: Mick Molloy, Richard Molloy
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Brent Crockett
PRODUCTION COMPANY: Molloy Boy Productions
'Crackerjack', Jonathon Dawson, ABC Radio Hobart, November 7, 2002.
'Crackerjack', Paul Byrnes, Sydney Morning Herald, November 7, 2002.
'A Crackerjack Game', Suzanne Carbone, The Age, November 7, 2002.
'Crackerjack', Graham Reid, New Zealand Herald, March 3, 2002.
'Crackerjack', David Stratton, Variety, November 18-24, 2002.
'Crackerjack', Evan Williams, The Australian, November 9, 2002.
'Bias Binding', Shannon Harvey, The Sunday Times, November 3, 2002.
Interviews with the makers of Crackerjack were surprisingly hard to come by. Not surprising, however was that they all focused around co-scriptwriter and co-producer Mick Molloy, who was the 'face of the film'. With a fair bit of searching, I managed to find a number of interviews with Mick Molloy about Crackerjack:
Mick Molloy, Samuel Johnson + Judith Lucy - Interview with Moviehole.net
Mick Molloy - Interview with Steve Jones for dB Magazine
Mick Molloy - Interview with Dominic Corry from nzoom.com
Box Office Information and Release Dates:
Its U.S. premiere was on April 5, 2003 at the Minneapolis International Film Festival.
From searching extensively on the web I found the following sites contained literature on Crackerjack:
My dominant source of information was the internet. I searched a number of movie sites such as The Internet Movie Database (imdb.com), urbancinefile.com.au and cinephilia.net.au. All of these sites were quite helpful. I also used the links provided on the MCC Ozfilm website and on other websites such as The Australian Film Commission's website (www.afc.gov.au) and the Australian Film Institute's website (www.afi.org.au). They provided access to quite a good deal of information about Crackerjack.
I spent quite a bit of time searching the university's databases for journal and articles on Crackerjack but could only find one: David Stratton's review for Variety. The most effective method I found for gaining information on Crackerjack was through the use of Internet search engines AltaVista and Google. These not only allowed me to find a great deal of information on Crackerjack but made my search more refined and direct. By combining terms such as 'Crackerjack', 'Mick Molloy', 'review', 'interview', 'Australian' and 'movie' in different ways I was able to avoid being confronted with a glut of largely unrelated information.
Some information was easy to find while some wasn't. Information on cast, crew, release dates and general literature on the film was quite easy to locate. But finding the box-office information and interviews was much tougher. Though it took a while, all in all I managed to put together quite a bit of pertinent information relating to Crackerjack.
Crackerjack is the story of Jack Simpson (Mic Molloy), a young bloke who is a bit of a lost soul. He works in an inner-Melbourne office and has a scam running, of which he is quite proud. You see, Jack joined the Cityside lawn-bowling club, opposite his office, several years ago in order to get the benefit of a free parking spot in the city close to work. He has since joined up in three different names and hires out the parking spots allocated to these pseudo-members at a premium price to colleagues and friends who need parking in the city.
However the scam backfires on him when the Cityside lawn bowling club encounters financial difficulties which threaten its survival. The club needs quick money to fight off unscrupulous local businessman Ernie Fowler (John Clarke), who wants to buy the club and change it drastically, filling it with poker machines - a prospect that appalls Cityside's elderly members. The club decides the best way to do this is to enter a men's fours bowling tournament (which happens to be run by ErnieFowler) and win the cash prize on offer. However, the club is one player short of a team and on scanning their membership list stumble upon the unknown Jack Simpson. They contact Jack, assuming he is an old bloke living in the area only to discover that he is a young fellow who works across the street and has little interest in bowling. He is not keen on playing so they threaten to revoke his membership.
Desperate not to lose his important scam he gives in to their demands to play. He then also becomes involved in the obligatory off-field chores and socializing of the club, joined enthusiastically in this regard by his young room-mate and best friend Dave Jackson. Jack is surprised to find that he is not bad at bowling at that he actually enjoys his involvement with the club and its members, particularly club captain Stan Coombs with whom he forms a strong bond. He becomes increasingly caught up in the fortunes of the club, finding himself in a battle against the ruthless businessman Ernie Fowler who is intent on stopping Cityside winning by rigging the tournament.
Cityside progesses through to the final where their captain Stan Coombs, upon delivering the winning bowl, collapses and is rushed off in an ambulance. Ernie Fowler has the shot disqualified and it is up to Jack to re-take the final shot. His shot is perfect and Cityside wins the tournament, the prize-money and the chance to keep their club as it is.
I found this ending, though somewhat clichéd, nicely finished off a funny, quite heart-warming movie. I thought Crackerjack was a very good effort from the Molloy Brothers with their first feature film. It's an uncomplicated comedy and though some of the humour was slightly obvious or crude, there were enough genuinely funny moments to negate these, particularly the fancy-dress party with Mick Molloy looking incredibly alike Saddam Hussein. Crackerjack's story is quite good - it has vibrant characters and a very original setting. Overall the scripting is of a high quality, with both the comedic talents of the Molloy Brothers and the acerbic wit of script supervisor John Clarke shining through.
The script is brought to life by fine performances from the ensemble cast whose combined acting experience adds up to over 500 years. Australian cinema stalwart Bill Hunter is terrific as Cityside club captain Stan Coombs while the equally experienced Monica Maughan, Lois Ramsay, Frank Wilson and Esme Melville are also brilliant as Cityside members. Australian comedy legend John Clarke is suitably slimy as unscrupulous businessman Frank Fowler and up and coming actor Samuel Johnson plays Molloy's sidekick Dave Jackson very well. Despite lacking acting experience and ability, Mick Molloy and Judith Lucy are both quite good in the film, with their comic timing coming to the fore. Molloy suits the coarse young Jack Simpson character to a tee.
The fish out of water scenario, with Molloy as the uncouth youth amongst straight-laced oldie's, works well providing many funny moments. His chaotic introduction into the demure, somewhat eccentric world of lawn bowls is hilarious. However more than just providing humour, the scenario creates some interesting viewing. I found the way in which the relations between Molloy's character (and his room-mate Dave), and the elderly members develops throughout the film intriguing and at times heart-warming. Despite satirising the vast differences betweens today's youth and the elderly, Crackerjack also illustrates, through Molloy's growing acceptance within the club and the friendship he builds with captain Stan Coombs in particular, how easily these differences can be overcome and the age-gap can be bridged. The film is thus addressing the problematic relationship between the youth and the elderly prominent in modern Australian society.
Crackerjack could also nearly be seen as a sort of coming of age film. Molloy's character Jack enters the film as a brash, crude, disrespectful and immoral young man. Upon his first attempt at bowling, club captain Stan Coombs tells him “bowling is a great test of character”. Jack then proceeds to put his first bowl into the ditch. However, Stan begins to sense that Jack is better than that indicating to him that he has much more talent (read character) than he is demonstrating. Therefore while Jack is helping Cityside to battle against the looming threat of the invasion of 'pokie' machines into the club, and the evils of big business and gambling this represents, he is also battling with his own character.
As the film progresses he is increasingly influenced by the morals and character of his elderly clubmates with his bowling ability improving concurrently. By the film's end he has changed significantly and although you know he's still slightly brash and crude at heart his disrespectful, immoral nature has vanished. This metamorphosis is symbolised by his perfect bowl which wins the tournament - illustrating that he has past the test of character lawn bowls represents with flying colours. Not only then does this bowl imply that he has saved Cityside bowling club from the evils of big business and gambling but that he has saved himself from the evils that had plagued his character.
Stylistically, Crackerjack is quite understated and I think its naturalist filmmaking style suits the topic (O'Regan,1996, pg. 202). It portrays the lawn bowling world in quite a simple, realistic manner allowing the film's content to take centre stage. Thus, it provides a relatively natural and undistracting background against which the relationships between the younger and older characters can develop and their differences and similarities can be highlighted.
In 1999, Mick Molloy had essentially run out of options. Radio and stand-up comedy were in his past and The Mick Molloy Show had just been quickly dumped by Channel Nine. Mick, his brother Richard who had been a writer on the show, and the show's producer Stephen Luby, were left to contemplate their next move. The group, who comprise Molloy Boy productions, decided that film was a definite avenue. Their Richmond production office just happened to be very near the Richmond Union Bowling Club and out of curiosity Mick and Richard wandered down to check it out. They found that not only were the mostly much older people very friendly but had some fantastic, funny stories to tell.
This visit sparked a film idea - a comedy set in the world of lawn-bowling which would have as one of its main themes the relationship between older and younger people. Mick and Richard spent months researching the validity of the idea. A large part of the research involved a two-month trip visiting the bowling clubs of rural Victoria to build their knowledge on the sport and further hone ideas and character development. They came across some fascinating characters who told them a lot about the goings-on of the world of lawn-bowls and it became apparent that their idea was indeed valid.
Equipped with mountains of research material and interviews, the Molloy brothers began
constructing Crackerjack's narrative. The thorough process of writing treatments, altering the treatment and writing the initial draft took most of 2000. They then drafted in the renowned Australian comedy veteran John Clarke to help develop the script, before offering him the role of the ruthless local businessman Ernie Fowler, which he accepted.
Once the script was finished the next step for Molloy Boy productions was to find locations appropriate for the film. Of particular importance was the setting for The Cityside Bowling Club which was the major setting in the script. After searching extensively the Melbourne Bowling Club was chosen because it best suited the needs of the film and most importantly, was willing to accommodate the 18 days of filming that was required. The other locations were pretty straightforward and the Molloy Brothers had already decided on the location for the grand final setting (the Corrowa bowling club in North-East Victoria) which they had come across on their 8-week research trip.
With the script and locations set, Molloy Boy Productions went about casting the film. They were delighted and amazed at being able to realise their “cast wish list” as Producer Stephen Luby pointed out: “A lot of these guys were on our wish list originally. We didn't expect to get them but they all loved the script”. The ensemble cast they put together was predominantly made up of older Australian actors and had a combined acting experience of over 500 years.
Thus, The stage was then set for the business end of the filmmaking process. Crackerjack was shot in 2001 in under a month, with a significant amount of night filming. It was made on a modest budget which was built upon financing from private investors who were impressed by the fact that Mick Molloy had personally invested in the project. Because of the film's budget, but also because of the nature of the story itself, Molloy Boy Productions adopted a no-frills approach to Crackerjack's filming and post-production. However, there were some exceptions. Molloy Boy Productions managed to incorporate a couple of Computer Generated Imagery (CGI) shots into the bowling action as well as inventing a remote controlled bowl to use in some of the trickier shots.
A big budget wasn't really necessary for Crackerjack however, and it had considerable success following its Nov 2002 Australian release. The film opened on 204 screens nationwide earning close to $1.4 million at the Australian box-office in its first weekend, second only to the enormously successful international hit My Big Fat Greek Wedding. It went on to become the most successful Australian film of 2002, grossing $7.6 million at the Australian box-office to just pip the highly-acclaimed Rabbit Proof Fence ($7.5 million). All up it earned in excess of $8 million at the Australian box office, but this could have been even higher had it not been released around the same time as international blockbusters such as The Lord of The Rings: The Two Towers, 007: Die Another Day, and Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets.
Co-writer and co-producer of Crackerjack Mick Molloy, is one of Australia's best known comedians and comedy writers. He been a familiar presence in Australian media since 1992 as an integral part of popular comedy television shows The D-generation and The Late Show, and the more recent, but less successful, The Mick Molloy Show, which he directed, presented and produced himself. Between 1995 and 1998, he formed half of Australia's highest rating radio programme, Martin/Molloy, which was broadcast on 54 stations nationwide.
Crackerjack is Mick Molloy's first feature film, although he directed and produced the feature length documentary film Tackle Happy in 2000. Crackerjack displays the same Australian humour that has characterized Molloy and his previous work. Though it on occasions displays the crude humour found in TackleHappy, Crackerjack's humour is largely inoffensive and uncomplicated, much like Molloy's work in The D-Generation and The Late Show.
Crackerjack's director Paul Moloney has been involved with the Australian film and television industry for 28 years. He began directing in 1981 on television programs such as The Sullivans, Carson's Law, The Henderson Kids and The Flying Doctors. Paul has worked constantly as a
Director on Australian television productions including SeaChange, Stingers, Dogwoman, Good Guys, Bad Guys and five of the Halifax f.p. telemovies, and has received three AFI nominations for Best Director. The influence of his time as a television director is evident in Crackerjack's fairly televisual style.
Mick's brother Richard Molloy, who was a co-writer and associate producer of Crackerjack, has been collaborating with Mick since 1998 as part of Molloy Boys Productions. He was a writer on The Mick Molloy Show and helped to create Tackle Happy. Crackerjack is his first feature film also.
Crackerjack's producer Stephen Luby has been a producer of comedy for film and television for more than 10 years - firstly with Artist Services and subsequently as an independent
producer. He has produced television shows such as Big Girls Blouse, Full Frontal, Jimeoin as well as working on the Mick Molloy Show. He been part of Molloy Boy Productions since 1998.
Crackerjack's reception was mixed which is characteristic of the generally polarized critical responses to Australian Cinema, (O'Regan, 1996, pg. 181). This was particularly clear in regards to the Molloy brothers' script.
Many film critics were very disparaging of Crackerjack's script. A good number of these felt that Crackerjack's humour was lacking. The film was often criticized for not having enough funny moments while some didn't find it funny at all indicating that the humour seemed to be at the expense of the characters. A number of critics felt Crackerjack's humour was telegraphed and that the jokes were too hard-working with too many of them not very funny. However, other critics found it very humourous. They praised its witty premise, its simple approach to humour and the fact that it didn't overdo its jokes.
There was also considerable differentiation of opinions in regards to Crackerjack's storyline. On the one hand, the script was condemned by some for creating one-dimensional characters and was variously described as thin, clichéd, and in need of a sharper pace and less labouring of obvious points. On the other hand, the praise Molloy gained from others for unearthing a great, heart-warming story from an unlikely source outweighed these criticisms. They commended his script for having genuine affection for its characters and for dealing with the elderly and the sport of lawn bowls in a respectful rather than smug manner. Some thought it very successfully tapped into a wellspring of character, charm and history in everyday lawn bowls clubs, while others enjoyed its twists and turns and felt it kept them guessing before finally tying up all the loose ends.
However, one thing that was basically roundly agreed upon about Crackerjack was that the acting was of a high-quality. Though Mick Molloy's acting ability was often called into question his comic ability and timing were generally commended along with the performances of the rest of the ensemble cast. The experienced cast, along with the younger Samuel Johnson and Judith Lucy, were roundly given strong praise for their performances in bringing to life their vibrant characters.
Little critical attention was paid to Crackerjack's film-making style, which was very much naturalist and unimportant to the film. However, some criticized the televisual style which longtime television director Paul Maloney brought to the film.
All in all Crackerjack was received quite well, with even those who were critical of aspects of the movie still finding it had quite a lot to offer. It was generally perceived as a clever, humourous, warm and good-natured Australian comedy. Australian audiences certainly seemed to enjoy it and it finished as the highest grossing Australian film of 2002.
Crackerjack - The Position and Value of Australian Film:
Crackerjack received quite a positive critical response and though it is yet to be released on video its success in the domestic market place has been significant as shown by its successful performance against both Australian and international films at the box-office in 2002. One thing this illustrates about the position of Australian film is the way in which over the late '90s and the early 'noughties' Australian films have gained increasing credibility with local audiences. A number of Australian films released during this period such as The Castle, Two Hands, Chopper, Lantana and The Wog Boy have been very successful in the domestic market competing against their bigger budget international rivals. With this has come a growing confidence in local audiences towards Australian cinema. As a result, Australian cinema's domestic position has improved significantly - it has become less 'marginal' (O'Regan,1996, pg. 109).
However, Australian cinema is still antipodal in nature and Crackerjack's critical uptake shows that Australian cinema's international position is still very marginal (O'Regan,1996, pg. 106). Despite being successful in Australia Crackerjack has received no international interest. Its only international screening was at the Minneapolis International Film Festival in April this year and there are no details of its critical reception. Though the aforementioned Australian films, apart from The Wog Boy were all considerably more successful internationally their screenings and box-office takings have still been limited. Thus, Crackerjack's critical uptake shows that Australian cinema's international position is very peripheral with its product still seen as occupying the place of the 'foreign' film in international markets (O'Regan,1996, pg. 96). This is the legacy of its position as a medium-sized English-language cinema (O'Regan,1996, pg. 96).
Australian national cinema is generally considered to be a mundane cinema as opposed opposition to the more prestigious and distinctive festival and 'Other' cinemas (O'Regan,1996, pg. 121). O'Regan points out that although Australian national cinema also contains festival and 'Other' cinemas, these form the independent minor stream of Australian film while mundane cinema forms the mainstream (O'Regan,1996, pg. 127).
Crackerjack and its critical uptake illustrates the way in which Australian cinema is perceived as mundane (O'Regan,1996, pg. 121). The critiques of Crackerjack were characteristic of writings on mundane cinemas. They were basically all authored in its country of origin (Australia) and in the country's dominant language (English), and were destined for an audience predominantly made up of people from that country (O'Regan,1996, pg. 121).
Many of these writings criticized Crackerjack's naturalism filmmaking approach for its Tele-visual style, which Adrian Martin argues has become an aesthetic characteristic of the mundane Australian and British cinemas (O'Regan,1996, pg. 121). Martin also suggests “that the dominance of naturalism in Australian filmmaking is what marks the yawning stylistic gap between Australian and Hollywood cinema (O'Regan,1996, pg. 203). He says “this owes itself to the marginalizing of cinephile traditions in Australian filmmaking - whereas such cinephilia is integral to Hollywood cinema” (O'Regan,1996, pg. 203). The maligning of this general lack of distinctiveness in Australian filmmaking evident in critical responses to Crackerjack is very common in writings on Australian cinema (O'Regan,1996, pg. 203). In this way Crackerjack's critical uptake illustrates why Australian cinema has been dubbed mundane by many people and thus often considered to be of less value than Hollywood, the more prestigious and distinctive national cinemas of Europe, and sometimes even those of South East Asia, Latin America and Africa (O'Regan,1996, pg. 121).
Australian National Cinema As a Medium-Sized English Language Cinema:
Australia's national cinema is described as a medium-sized English-language cinema (O'Regan,1996, pg. 106). This means that Australian cinema is subordinate to the dominant international cinema and that in order to compete both at home and abroad it must, as O'Regan puts it, “be similar to, yet different from, the high-budget Hollywood product” (O'Regan,1996, pg. 106).
Crackerjack's performance at the Australian box-office outlines the extent of Australian cinema's subordination. Even though Crackerjack was the most successful Australian film of 2002 it was still not in the top 25 grossing films at the Australian box-office - which was dominated by Hollywood films. And its $7.5 million takings at the Australian box-office pales in comparison with the takings of many of these international films. 5 of them at least doubled Crackerjack's earnings, while another 5 at least tripled it and the international blockbusters Harry Potter 1, Spiderman, Star Wars Episode 2 and The First Lord of The Rings film grossed between 4 and 6 times as much. This all illustrates the way in which Australian cinema operates “in conditions of permanent and unequal cultural exchange with respect to the international cinema” (O'Regan, 1996, pg. 110).
This antipodal condition is central to Australian cinemas negotiation of its possibilities and its differentiation from the product of the international cinema (O'Regan, 1996, pg. 110). This 'Australian difference' has often been often been created through the use of parody like in Crackerjack which parodies the 'crude' young Australian and the 'unscrupulous' businessman, among other things (O'Regan,1996, pg. 96).Crackerjack's parody, irony and self-deprecation are part of an antipodal strand of Australian comic cinema (O'Regan,1996, pg. 234). O'Regan sees this antipodal strand as illustrating one of the distinctive traits of Australian cinema: “its unoriginality and cultural weakness as a medium-sized cinema” (O'Regan,1996, pg. 8).
Because of Australia's small film exhibition and distribution market, its films have much lower budgets than its international competitors (O'Regan, 1996, pg. 106). Whereas Hollywood films have little problem gaining massive private financing Mick Molloy had to partly finance Crackerjack himself and it was only this personal investment in the film that actually attracted private investment. Crackerjack was made on a small budget however, and has a very modest visual style in comparison to its much slicker and more polished Hollywood produced counterparts. This kind of stylistic gap is one of the major reasons that Hollywood films are so dominant in the markets of medium-sized English-language cinemas like Australia's (O'Regan,1996, pg. 106).
Byrnes, P. 'Crackerjack', in the Sydney Morning Herald, November, 2002.
Carbone, S. 'A Crackerjack Game', in The Age, November, 2002.
Dawson, J. 'Crackerjack', on ABC Radio Hobart, November, 2002.
Harvey, S. 'Bias Binding', in The Sunday Times, November, 2002.
O'Regan, T. 1996, Australian National Cinema, Routledge, London.
Reid, G. 'Crackerjack', in the New Zealand Herald, March, 2003.
Stratton, D. 'Crackerjack', in Variety, November, 2002.
Williams E. 'Crackerjack', in The Australian, November, 2002.