Last Sunday, I saw what I think could be one of the best Australian films I’ve ever seen: That’s Not Me. It’s a big call to make, but hear me out.
That’s Not Me is a low budget film that was written by a married couple – Alice Foulcher, who also starred in the film as the main character, and Gregory Erdstein, who also directed. It’s a funny, character-driven film that has you laughing right from the start – opening with Alice, playing Polly, giving her well-rehearsed, fantasy Oscar acceptance speech while sitting on the toilet. This is such a clever way to start the film as it already tells us a lot about Polly and her current situation – that she dreams of being in the same league as Meryl Streep and Cate Blanchett, who are thanked in her speech, but she is currently in a Melbourne share house pretending that an air freshener is the object of her desire – the Oscar. We know that Polly’s main goal in the film will be to actually get to the Academy Awards to give her speech while holding her own real Oscar, and we’re about to witness her journey of either getting there or not.
We then learn that Polly is a familiar face, when a supermarket employee recognises her from a KFC ad. Except that the actress in the ad is her identical twin sister, not Polly. The use of having a twin sister takes the universal habit of comparing ourselves to others to a whole other degree – twin sisters wanting to succeed in the same career and one actually making a name for themselves while the other is turning down work that isn’t the suitable “big break” project she’s waiting for.
The unfortunate events that Polly continues to find herself in are both cringeworthy and immediately familiar, like working in a job that you didn’t picture yourself doing by that stage in your life and wondering where it all went wrong and when you’re going to finally get your life “back on track”. There is a message constantly repeated throughout the film that “making it” is a dangerous ideal to try to achieve. Three scenes come to mind:
The first, when Polly and her not-as-good-as-she-believes friend Zoe are sitting on Venice Beach in Los Angeles and Zoe asks her why she wants to act. Polly answers that it’s what she’s always wanted to do, it was her dream as a kid, to which Zoe responds with a blunt, “So what?” The dream to act and “make it” as a big star is the dream of almost all kids and isn’t enough to actually try to make a life of it. As we all know and discover in this film, making a name for yourself in acting (and any creative industry) is hard work, no matter how good you may be. It seems to come a lot easier for her twin sister, Amy, but she’s the one saying yes to opportunities and putting herself out there, and would most likely have a very different answer to Zoe’s question.
The second scene is when Polly is talking to Amy’s ex boyfriend, also an actor, and she repeats Zoe’s question to him. His answer is the same as Polly’s was, almost word-for-word. “So what?” she repeats Zoe’s response, and then quickly changes track when she realises that’s not coming from her. She comments on how parents of our generation have made their children believe that they’re all special and made for something bigger, and that there is no reason why they couldn’t be the ones to “make it”, as if she’s trying to decide who she should blame – herself, for sticking to her childhood dream of wanting to be an actor, or her parents, for making her believe she could?
Finally, the best scene of them all is when she’s looking through an album of old photos at her parents’ house and comes across a black and white photo of her grandparents holding a baby in front of the house they had just bought. Written underneath the photo is the phrase – We made it. There it is again! That notion of having to achieve something in order to make it in life. Polly marvels on what a different time they live in and how great it would be to live in her grandparents’ time where making it consisted of marrying, having a family, and buying a home. If only life were so simple! She asks her dad why he encouraged her to dream big and pursue acting when he could’ve just encouraged her to settle down and buy her first home, to which he said he would never encourage something so unattainable, not with today’s property prices making it almost impossible for first home buyers! If you’re not Australian or are unaware of the reference, have a read of this article to understand the not-so-subtle inside joke.
So what does it mean to “make it” and why are we all chasing this blase ideal? There’s a story that pops up a couple of times in the film, by the biggest jerk character that always made me so angry, about identical twins who both had the same dream and came to an obstacle where only one could make it to the finish line (funny that!) and the one who didn’t “make it” got fat and became a nurse, as if either of those things is something deplorable and makes you a failure. During the third retelling, Polly has a change of heart and asks him what he does that is so much better than a nurse who actually saves lives. Being the jerk that he is, he turns it back on her and asks the same question, to which we all know the answer – she’s not really doing anything.
In the Q&A after the film, Alice mentioned that she wanted to tackle the ideal of making it and show how dangerous that it can be because not everyone can be the next Cate Blanchett, or whatever the dream is that you may have (mine being the next JK Rowling). This film identified so many moments, thoughts, and feelings that I myself have had as I grow older and continue down a path that is not at all the path that I dreamed of taking as a teenager. But as Alice and the film points out, that’s okay! We all have our own paths to take and life really is about the journey, not the finish line.
In summary, should you see this movie?
Absolutely! Alice said that for most people, it takes four recommendations for them to go see an Australian film. So since I’m only one person, here are four reasons why you should see this film:
- For scenes that you will never forget and will become iconic in the Australian film scene. I’ve mentioned some already, here’s another: Isabel Lucas plays Zoe, an Australian actress living in Los Angeles trying to make it (again) in Hollywood. She wanted to do something that would make her remembered by film executives for a new Jaws movie that she auditioned for. So she shows up at the front desk, empties a bag of dead fish onto the desk, and says “How’s that for guts?” Isn’t that brilliant!
- For the level of detail that has gone into every single scene. Remember: this is a low budget film. They made it on $60,000, including the marketing and distribution, and everyone who worked on the film did so without payment (they will be paid if the film makes any money). Every scene has the level of detail you would expect from big budget films. There are always things to look at to get further insight into the setting and the characters. In the Q&A, Alice mentioned that there was one scene that irritated Gregory, which was where we see a shelf of books and two scrapbooks of Polly and Amy are lying horizontally. Polly’s is on top of Amy’s, which Gregory said should’ve been the other way around since Amy’s has a lot more content. It is that level of thought and detail that is consistent through the whole film.
- For the cameos and plenty of Australian references and jokes. Like Andrew O’Keefe (Deal or No Deal host) playing an actor in a TV show just like Neighbours or Home and Away.
- For the amazing scene of Polly being mistaken for Amy and offered free coffee and food, inspiring her to commit to being Amy for a day and seeing how far she could take it. One of the downfalls of the film is that I wish it had more scenes like that. But then you would have to decide what to take out to make room for it and I can’t think of anything that I would want left out, so it’s great as it is.
I give the film 4.5/5. Go see it!