Three weeks and change ago, I made a short trip into Melbourne (specifically, the Loop Bar) to view an even shorter film: Bernadette Keys’ Comeback. It features Steve Kilbey (singer-songwriter for seminal Aussie band The Church) as once-was rocker Bobby Birdhouse, with Clem Bastow as his daughter Tammy. Being a short film, it left me wanting more, but not in the way you may immediately think…
The rule-of-thumb in a situation like this is: was I entertained? Resoundingly so, in this case; Comeback was rife with pointedly gentle (if somewhat unsophisticated) humour and radiated a genuine warmth towards its characters. Keys lenses the film expertly, suffused with a feel-good ambience. The production design, with ersatz street press headlines detailing Bobby’s fall from grace, also deserves credit.
Bobby is sympathetic from the get-go (Go-Set?), with a mediation tape playing during the introduction, helping to allay the case of stagefright he has suffered since being booed off at “Funbury ‘72”. Kilbey’s Birdhouse displays a certain easy likeability, and makes what could’ve been a caricature in lesser hands believable and authentic.
However, any attempt by Bobby to attain inner peace is disrupted in short order, first by Bobby’s lovably pathetic superfan Patti Boyd (Cecilia Opie), then by his son and daughter Tammy (Bastow) & Tim (Daniel Nicewski). While Bobby’s dealings with Patti delinates the former’s alienation from the 21st century with rapid-fire volatility - an attempt by Patti to provide an home-cooked meal is repudiated by Bobby declaring “I hate food!” - it’s Bobby’s relationship with his offspring that sees Comeback finding its feet.
It’s during this middle sequence where Kilbey shows off his acting chops; it may seem easy to stare off into space while Tammy breaks out her digital camera to broker some publicity, but I dare anyone not to relate to Bobby’s justifiable anger at the ringtones ignorantly “boop-boop-boop”ing from Tim’s phone. However, Bobby’s reference to Tim being a games tester for Nintendo, while serving as shorthand for Tim’s slacker status, took me out of the film. The reference felt labored and - given the near-ubiquity of games culture - betrayed a misunderstanding of same.
With the brief shift of focus onto Tammy, though, we receive the best line of the film; stressed out from dealing with her father and sibling, Tammy rehearsedly collapses into a chair, headache-stricken and relating how R’n’B singer Luther Vandross met his demise. It’s a line Bastow delivers with suitable gusto, and which elicited the most laughs at the screening.
However, it’s the third act where Comeback comes slightly unstuck; the audience is asked to accept Bobby’s return to the world of rock’n’roll as a fait accompli, relating to mate & roadie Snake (Sam Sejavka) that “Chuggy liked my demos!” It’s not quite explained how Bobby got over his stagefright, but we’ve grown to like Bobby over the course of the film, so we take it at face value. After all, we understand that there could be worse things in the world then playing “(You’re the) One Hundred & One Girl” (a catchy 60’s pastiche composed by Kilbey for the film) to an appreciative older audience, with Patti no doubt front-and-center in the crowd.
And this is where Comeback leaves me wanting more, in both senses of the term. I would have liked to know more about these characters when the film finished & the credits rolled: where are Tim & Tammy’s mother? Why is Tim a slacker & Tammy a hypochrondiac? What’s the story with her fiance? What exactly has Bobby been doing these last few decades? Is he truly over his stagefright? Comeback’s structure, bitty and jerry-built, also works against it; at times it feels slapdash, but conversely, it allows its characters to breathe. This is truly where Comeback excels, it must be said: the cast (especially Kilbey & Bastow) rise to the occasion.
It’s been made clear that Comeback serves as proof-of-document for a potential TV series, of which hopes for same both Keys & Kilbey made no secret of at the screening. (Although a nineteen-episode series seems a wee bit optimistic.) Given that, I’m willing to overlook Comeback’s flaws. However, if a follow-up never materializes, then the audience may well be left hanging. Make no mistake, there’s a lot to like about Comeback, and I admire Keys’ sheer force-of-will in bringing Bobby’s story to the screen. I just hope that Comeback’s colorful cast of characters make a comeback of their own, hopefully sooner rather than later, and more fleshed-out to boot.
(Pictures taken from the Comeback Facebook page.)