It’s lonely at the top and much-loved Australian comedian, Carl Barron is all too aware of this. In his feature film debut he takes a leaf out of his book of life spent on the road for the past two decades. The film is brave and has an interesting enough premise, but it is let down at times by some tired clichés and its plodding execution.
In Manny Lewis, Barron stars as a successful but disenfranchised comedian. The eponymous funny man can make thousands of people laugh at shows each night but fails to connect with a single girl and have a meaningful relationship. The story was conceived by Barron and co-written by him along with the film’s director, Anthony Mir. There is a very real sense of the isolation and loneliness that stems from a life spent perpetually on the road. It also means that it is hard to know where Lewis’ life ends and where Barron’s begins.
The film starts off in quite a melancholy way but it does lighten once the star meets a female love interest, the complex and beautiful, Maria (Leeanna Walsman of Looking For Alibrandi fame). But this lady is also harbouring a secret. At night she works for a sex hotline and uses the name Caroline. Lewis had previously called the number and pretended to be “Thomas” and the pair clicked so he continues ringing. Eventually, Maria discovers Thomas’ true identity and in subsequent phone calls she listens intently as Lewis describes his dates with “Maria” and takes on board and changes in response to the criticisms he makes.
The film boasts beautiful shots around Sydney including The Rocks, Kings Cross, Sydney Harbour and State Theatre. The latter is the scene for Lewis’ big stand-up show and this is what much of the film is structured around. Fans of Barron’s will appreciate these snippets of stand-up as this is essentially the wry and observational material Barron normally says and it is what audiences love and are most familiar with.
Manny Lewis throws up various questions and ideas. It sees its main character having to choose between pursuing a successful career and love as well as having to tackle his demons (including an abusive relationship with his father (Roy Billing of Rabbit Proof Fence fame). The key is that for Lewis to find love he must first come to like and appreciate himself.
Manny Lewis is a personal and intimate offering by Barron that is bittersweet. The film has some good jokes and lots of dramatic and melancholy moments. It feels real in its portrayal of a shy and reclusive comedian. Ultimately, this all combines for a film that is full of conflicting emotions and a modest look at an awkward funny man and his quiet life. And it doesn’t have anywhere near as much funny business as one would think.
Review score: TWO AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Manny Lewis is out in Australian cinemas as of Thursday March 12th .