“Strange Fits of Passion” is a gently humorous debut film for Australian writer/director Elise McCredie and the first leading role for Michela Noonan. The film was nominated for several awards back home in Australia and deserving of the attention of American audiences accustomed to the broader touches of a Paul Hogan.
What distinguishes “Strange Fits of Passion” are its tenderness, the real compassion underlying the humor and (strange in today’s cinema) its portrait of young sexual awakening from the point of view of a woman (one wonders why this has not been done more often).
Noonan’s character, unnamed and referred to simply as the Everywomanish “She,” is confused, uncertain, vulnerable, neither victim nor Uberfrau. Waifish, short-haired and cute, she seems anything but sexy, habitually hidden in a grey shapeless Salvation Army coat. She lives in a room in some sort of Melbourne commune where all her companions–male and female, straight and gay–look to be laughingly, passionately enjoying beer and sex. Everyone else has a name, including the avuncular owner of the bookshop where She works and reads Romantic poetry (hence the Wordsworth line for the film’s title), fantasizing about losing her innocence in the Grand Manner.
The excellent Noonan is on-screen continually and we see more or less through her eyes, though we are granted a certain distance (and knowledge) that allows for greater depth. We do realize, for instance, that these others in her world are certainly no more attractive than she is, nor in many cases any more secure. They are not what meets the eye, as Noonan’s eyes wonderfully express.
Pursuing her ideal of Francis, a bookshop customer who would steal a book–“Excuse me, would you like to take whatever is in your pants out?” she asks him–She goes through a string of theories and brief semi-adventures with people who turn out unsatisfactory, as misguided and confused as herself: a Latin unlover who tags his furnishings in Spanish for his language students, a big and big-hearted lady who adopts foreign children and boxes of food for refugees, a wannabe poet, and even a carrot. As her voice-over thoughts reveal, She reacts instinctively, with emotions rather than reasoning. “Oh, my God! I’m gay and the world is full of women!” She exclaims at one point. But invariably, She winds up cuddling on the shoulder of one true friend, the philosophic gay Jimmy who works in a Subway sandwich shop and is played just right by Mitchell Butell.
Amid the girl’s often surrealistic dreams, her vision of love and experience that may not really exist, it is Jimmy’s voice and advice that anchor calm reality and picture love as not an arbitrary flame but a consciously chosen fidelity that requires empathy and compassion. Jimmy’s tragedy, and the warm relationship between these two lead characters, will bring the girl, desperately seeking Susan or Sam or whatever, to a final wry acceptance of life as it is and of herself as she can be.
The framing opening- and closing-scene Melbourne mud puddle dries up, feet cross it, and the readiness for love and life is all. No need to overplay things: virginity is only a balloon, soon gone; a risk taken, a rejection or acceptance, is not the end of the world. Disguised or not, egos are fragile. This unpresuming film says a number of things, says them well, and is worth a good look.