Written and directed by Matthew Saville (Noise and Felony), A Month of Sundays is a charming Adelaide-set drama about ordinary people and second chances, starring Anthony LaPaglia in a compelling performance as a career real estate agent, Frank Mollard, trapped in a mid-life crisis of professional failure and emotional disconnect. Having recently lost his mother and been divorced, he is estranged from his teenage son and can’t even manage to sell a house during a property boom. This humorous and often moving existential study has a unique offbeat approach, which ensures that it stirs and lingers in the consciousness longer than you would fist anticipate.
Frank receives a phone call one night, and this act of chance catapults him out of his funk. The caller, Sarah (Julia Blake), sounds so much like his late mother that he believes he is talking with her. When she realises it is a misdial and that she has also mistaken him for someone he isn’t, her own son, the call ends awkwardly. But, part out of curiosity, and part out of a desperate attempt to connect with someone and bring a maternal figure back into his life to provide some direction, he calls in on Sarah, and she generously lets him into her life. While their friendship is peculiar – Sarah’s own son Damien (Donal Forde) is initially confused by Frank’s company, but eventually values the friendship that enhanced both of their lives in different ways – Frank applies her wisdom to repairing his relationship with his own family.
LaPaglia intermittently narrates the film, and this is made up almost-entirely of bored, scripted property evaluations – descriptions of housing features; immaterial attributes that he knows are inessential to contented living, but can be measured as valuable by aspiring homebuyers. This is his current world-view. For him everything he values is surface. Feigning enthusiasm and value is part of his job, but he just can’t appreciate anything right now.
A reversed ‘Welcome’ mat serves as an effective metaphor for Frank’s existence – he is a man emotionally boxed in, unable to appreciate the world outside his own front door. He spends his weeknights alone in his own home, and his weekends running inspections and auctions in empty houses and making small talk with strangers. These homes contain remnants of life, mail shoved under the front door and left-behind ornaments, and his isolation is especially vivid in these sequences.
Frank’s boss, Phillip Lang (a very funny John Clark), even with a severely ailing father, remains optimistic. He is expanding the business – fresh billboards and a water feature for the office, and a newly designed website – in an attempt to stay in the game during the boom. Frank’s wife is achieving success on a popular TV medical soap, and his son is following in her footsteps; rehearsing for a school play in which he has a prominent role. Everyone he knows, including Sarah, whose health is fading, seems to be making the most of the hand they are dealt – except Frank, wallowing is self-pity and lack of purpose.
Saville is impressively patient with his camera and edits, letting lengthy sequences play out without interruption, observing Frank’s unique tics. The score actually reminded me at times of Jon Brion’s work in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Punch-Drunk Love, a high-energy scattershot combination of synth and jazz percussion which feels like the projection of what’s circling through Frank’s scattered mind. The film’s unusual languid pacing complements Frank’s state of sleepwalking through his days, and the crisp cinematography captures the warm glow of what I expect is an Adelaide summer, which seems to play a part in thawing out Frank’s energy-sapping coldness.
The supporting performances are likeable; Blake and Clarke in particular, but this is LaPaglia’s show and you can see a passion for the project that drew him back to Australia after decades abroad. Frank is a tough guy to like, but LaPaglia’s portrayal is genuine and vanity-free, and I personally found his salvation rather moving.
There are a few developments that come off as a bit contrived, but Saville and the cast sell it with such positive intentions that these are easy to forgive. With its strange, offbeat charm, stirring salvation arc, interesting jazz-fusion score, and likeable supporting cast, A Month of Sundays patiently and effectively achieves a balance of very funny observations about the real estate world, and profound, melancholic depictions of love and loss and the role that chance plays in directing our lives.
By Andrew Buckle
Director: Matthew Saville
Writer(s): Matthew Saville
Starring: Anthony LaPaglia, Julia Blake, Justine Clarke, John Clarke
Runtime: 110 minutes
Release date(s): Australia: April 28, 2016