Team Mess, Adelaide Fringe Festival, Adelaide College of the Arts, 27 - 29 February 2012. Directed by Dara Gill.
This Is It has all the hallmarks of a bad low budget Australian thriller: superficial characters, cliché-riddled narrative, portentous soundtrack and deeply unpersuasive acting. The difference is that This Is It is not a movie at all but the premise of a mostly improvised mock press conference by Sydney-based performance company Team Mess.
Company members – and ostensible stars of the imagined movie – Frank B. Mainoo, Natalie Randall and Malcolm Whittaker face the press pack amidst rumours of on-set romances, falling outs and cruel pranks. The audience does not have very much to go on; just a series of enigmatic trailers shown on TV monitors before the actors hit the stage, and a glossy program resembling a press kit which contains, amongst other parodic titbits, the short story which supposedly inspired the movie. The details, however, are unimportant. This is, in all probability, just a dumb slasher flick, a DVD-er at best.
This Is It is, more than anything, a platform for some inspired improvisation. I say some because not all of it works as well as it should, Mainoo slow to loosen up and Whittaker appearing nervous. Both get better as the show progresses and the audience warms to their nicely distinct personas – Whittaker the actors’ actor, windy and pretentious, Mainoo the self-loving superstar wannabe with hip-hop aspirations. Natalie Kate Randall does not miss a beat from the beginning, and later brings the house down when she plants a kiss in an audience member’s program (the last page is set aside for autographs).
The press conference format is an excellent one, and is made appropriately glittery through the use of strobe lighting and a thundering soundtrack of pop songs. The audience is happy, delighted even at times, to go along with the wheeze and more than one person relished the opportunity to pose suitably provocative questions to the panel (‘can you confirm internet rumours that the sex scene was not simulated?’)
It was hard not to think of Christopher Guest’s films throughout all this, as well as the veritable industry of television mockumentaries which followed in their wake. The over-familiarity of this brand of comedy inevitably diminished the impact of the show. The difference is that This Is It is more ruthless in its post-modernist self-awareness. We all know that the trailers will turn out to have promised far more than the film ends up delivering, just as we know not to expect too much of the film’s tiresomely self-absorbed actors. What we don’t know is how seriously to take Team Mess’s claim that ‘the film unfolds in the space between what is revealed and what is left to the imagination’. Is This Is It a bona fide investigation of the processes of narrative and the imagination, or just a joke within a joke? I don’t have the answer, but I did laugh a lot.