One of the most popular films shown at this year’s Santa Barbara International Film Festival was a feel-good comedy from Australia, Alex & Eve, about the romance between a Greek Orthodox man and a Muslim woman. Both Alex (Richard Brancatisano) and Eve (Andrea Demetriades) come from overbearing families that have very strong ideas about a suitable mate for their offspring. Can true love be stymied by religious or ethnic prejudice? Needless to say, this story has been told at least a few thousand times since Shakespeare wrote Romeo and Juliet. But with appealing actors and a fresh setting, the story usually works. Whether it’s fresh enough to travel very far from Down Under remains to be determined.
Alex & Eve was adapted from a successful Australian play — actually a trilogy of plays — by Alex Lykos, who also wrote the screenplay for the movie. At the start, both characters are dubious about pursuing a romantic relationship. Alex is a dedicated teacher, and Eve is a successful lawyer. Her parents have a marriage arranged for her with a man from Lebanon, but she feels no enthusiasm about that match, or about other romantic prospects. Things change when the two meet-cute in a nightclub — he accidentally pulls out a stool, knocking her to the floor, then spills a drink on her dress. With such a bad beginning, a happy ending may be in the offing.
Derivative but timely Australian rom-com.
The problem is that both Alex and Eve are a bit intimidated by their domineering families. He has a bullying lout of a father, whereas in Eve’s case, it is her mother who is the rigid one. This means each of them has one sympathetic parent, so there is hope on the horizon. But their other family members are pretty monolithic in their opposition. When Alex and Eve try to bring the two families together for a meeting, resentments boil over.
What can make the umpteenth retelling of this story work for audiences? One element is witty dialogue, but Lykos delivers this only intermittently. In addition, the supporting characters are poorly defined. Alex and Eve have a pair of encouraging pals, obligatory in this kind of rom-com, but their characters are one-dimensional.
Director Peter Andrikidis does a better job supplying style and energy. The movie is very slickly made, sometimes a little too slick, with a wall-to-wall musical score that is sometimes entertaining and sometimes just relentless. However, Andrikidis and cinematographer Joseph H. Pickering make effective use of the Sydney locations, especially in a good scene where Alex overcomes his fear of heights to climb the Harbor Bridge, with Eve’s encouragement.
Of course the main ingredient crucial to retelling this story is to cast two appealing actors in the leads, and here the film succeeds neatly. Brancatisano may be a little more buff than most math teachers, but he looks good and plays his role with warmth. Demetriades is immensely winning. It’s a pleasure to encounter a smart, attractive woman who is far from perfect but still something of an iconoclastic role model for stereotype-defying Muslim women.
At a time when anti-Muslim prejudice has become a political issue in this country as well as many others, this film’s sympathetic, evenhanded portrait of Eve and her family is quietly admirable. That theme adds urgency to this uneven film. Will Alex and Eve’s love overcome the outside world’s prejudices? The matter may not be resolved until the final wedding scene, lifted from the climax of The Graduate.
Venue: Santa Barbara International Film Festival (Independent)
Production companies: Alex & Eve / Murray Fahey Production
Cast: Richard Brancatisano, Andrea Demetriades, Tony Nikolakopoulos, Helen Chebatte, Ryan O’Kane, Millie Samuels
Director: Peter Andrikidis
Screenwriter: Alex Lykos
Producer: Murray Fahey
Executive producers: Martin Cooper, Bill Kritharas, Morris Ruskin
Director of photography: Joseph H. Pickering
Production designer: Felicity Abbott
Costume designer: Leah Giblin
Editor: Neil Thumpston
Music: Steve Peach
Sales: Shoreline Entertainment
Not rated, 91 minutes