Friday April 11, 1997
They can't sing, they don't speak Italian, and most of them are heavily medicated. Nevertheless, with the help of their young theater director and against the orders of the administration, the patients at a mental institution in Sydney, Australia, are determined to mount an in-asylum production of Mozart's comic opera "Cosi fan Tutte."
Something like this actually happened to playwright Louis Nowra in the early years of his career, providing the inspiration two decades later for "Cosi," a highly successful Australian stage production and Mark Joffe's current film of the same name.
Politically incorrect as it may be to build a comedy around the antics of the mentally ill, "Cosi" is a warmly human and often uproarious ensemble piece, a sort of "Everyone Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" that will be offensive only to those with a purist's ear for Mozart.
Heading the superb Australian cast is Ben Mendelsohn, reprising his stage role of Lewis, the young man hired to keep patients amused with a theater production. Lewis' plans for a simple variety show are quickly scuttled by the irrepressible Roy (Barry Otto), an opera aficionado who cows him into taking on "Cosi fan Tutte" instead.
After a series of riotous auditions, Lewis' cast is filled out by the delusional Roy, the recovering heroin junkie Julie ("Muriel's Wedding's" Toni Collette), aging nympho Cherry (Jacki Weaver), anxious musician Zac (Colin Hay), active pyromaniac Doug (David Wenham), and the emotionally tense introverts Henry (Paul Chubb) and Ruth (Pamela Rabe).
Nowra's script follows a predictable arc, as the rehearsals and the patients' behavior become more and more frantic, before the coldly uncaring administrators provide the catalyst that brings everyone--and the show!--together in a life-affirming finale. But the incidents and the relationships developed along the way give it a wily balance of farce and sentiment.
The theme of tested fidelity in "Cosi fan Tutte" is played out in a pair of weakly developed romantic subplots--one, Lewis' mutual infatuation with Julie and the other an attempt by his best friend (Aden Young) to seduce Lewis' frustrated live-in lover, Lucy (Rachel Griffiths). Fortunately, neither of these is given enough time to detract from the real pleasures, and laughs, as Lewis and his eccentric cast prepare for opening night at the asylum.
Cosi, 1997. R, for language. A Smiley Films and Meridian Films production, released by Miramax Films. Director Mark Joffe. Producers Richard Brennan, Timothy White. Screenplay by Louis Nowra. Cinematographer Ellery Ryan. Editor Nicholas Beuman. Costumes Tess Schofield. Production and set design Chris Kennedy. Art director Hugh Bareup. Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes. Ben Mendelsohn as Lewis. Barry Otto as Roy. Toni Collette as Julie. Pamela Rabe as Ruth. Jacki Weaver as Cherry.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times