Stump Woods: "Big history, this club, mate, oh yeah... 32 flags."
The Sunday Age review for Valentine's Day, which aired last night on ABC1:
Now this is how you do feel-good. Aunty's had a couple of stabs at it this year but with Valentine's Day we finally arrive: gorgeous family drama that's funny, whimsical, warm-hearted and feels absolutely real. Rhys Muldoon is fab as Ben Valentine, the drifter manoeuvred into coaching a small town's footy team, but he's ably supported by a great cast of familiar and not-so-familiar faces. The equally fabulous Peter Temple provided the script, which snaps and sparkles. Peter Duncan (Children of the Revolution, Unfinished Sky) directs. The result is a package that perfectly captures small-town Australian life and the strange magic of Aussie rules football. There are too many highlights to list them all, but the choreography of the first footy match is worth a special mention.
Gorgeous - a hideous word.
Valentine's Day was OK. Not great, but easy enough to watch. It was certainly a far sight better than the dreary East of Everywhere and the cliché-laden quirk-by-numbers that was Bed of Roses. If you happen to stumble across it on ABC2, Foxtel or via an ABC1 repeat, give it a lash.
You knew there'd be a but.
Footy details. I'm a stickler for details, and only a little bit obsessed.
The review above, and a few others I've read, not to mention Rhys Muldoon on an ABC Conversation Hour last week, referred to the show as "a package that perfectly captures small-town Australian life and the strange magic of Aussie rules football."
In essence, maybe; in reality, maybe not.
The thrust of Valentine's Day is this:
While passing through the town, Ben Valentine (Muldoon) finds himself on the wrong end of the law, but when the judge hears he has a sports background, he is given community service: to coach the local footy team, the Growlers.
(Strictly speaking, Rushworth are the Bears, but that doesn't matter, lots of clubs have secondary nicknames. I used to play for the Tooronga Malvern Panthers, but most of us called them the 'Biners, as in the Combine. In this case, the Rushworth Bears are also called the Growlers, which leads to a tidy, if ribald, sight-gag.)
Ben has been arrested, but while he's in jail the magistrate hears his name, puts two and two together, gets twenty-two, and assumes the Ben Valentine in his lock-up is the same Ben Valentine who once played "20 odd" games for "the Tigers". (The real nickname of the real Rushworth is the Tigers. Really.) It's never stated precisely which Tigers, but since Ben is referred to as "having played with the best", it's pretty obvious the writer's inference was that Ben played in the AFL for Richmond. The magistrate, who doubles as the big nob at the local footy club, then fixes the sentence so that Ben, instead of going to jail, has to do 200 hours community service coaching the local Rushworth Bears.
Valentine's Day is based on a plot of mistaken identity. A drifter, thought to be an ex-league footballer, ends up coaching a team in Victoria... and no-one realises. No-one in a Victorian town spots that the Ben Valentine who now coaches their footy team is not the same Ben Valentine who once played "20 odd for the Tigers". On the other hand, the townsfolk DO recognise Tony Cosgrove, captain of the Tigers who comes to watch one of the Bears' games and who the real Ben Valentine had a fight with at the Tigers; a fact which popped up as No.2 on Google when a local lawyer - a hottie, naturally - does a search for Ben.
The Bears get blanket coverage on the local radio station. Now, I've played a lot of country footy in a lot of country towns and while there is certainly a call of the game on the local radio station, there is not much else; certainly not ear-to-ear talk-back.
Smokers are fake. Bet that's news! Fake smoking applies to so many television shows and movies, it's ridiculous. Surely it's well past time the makers of TV shows stopped trying to convince us their characters enjoy a gasper when quite obviously they would rather lick trees. Virtually none do the drawback, and most look about as convincing as a ten year old "smoking" a musk stick.
When is the last time any of you rocked into a small country town, rolled into the pub, and the local band didn't give you a headache? Mel, a woman who is one of the biggest fans of the club, plays in a local band - that is not bad. Not that I've already been on the internet hunting down the soundtrack - although they do a reasonable version of the Sunnyboys' Alone With You - but it would have been much more realistic had the band been rubbish.
Mel also makes a footy mistake. The Bears need to win three out of the last four games to stay alive as a club in their own right or else they will be forced to merge with Lucan. Mel: "We need six more competition points. We gotta win three from four." Ignoring, with great restraint, the "three from four", a creeping Americanism that makes me mad, correct me if I'm wrong: the Kyabram District Football League have four points for a win. That would mean Rushworth only need to win two games. Maybe the writer, Peter Temple, is from a rugby league state; or maybe he is even from the bizarro world we call South Australia, home of two-point wins, one-point draws, and strange percentages.
Pretty much every time sport is featured in a film or on a TV show the people playing are crap. Complete scrubbers. Valentine's Day is no exception. Rushworth are awful, and I don't know why the choreography needs a special mention; unless it's a special mention, if you know what I mean. But that doesn't stop them beating arch rival Lucan in the last match, despite the Lucan players actually being able to play. They kick properly, hit targets, mark on the lead; they are proper, grown-up footballers. Rushworth looked like a bad Under 14 side made up entirely of unco fat kids.
Nor have I ever seen a player and/or coach walk down a street of a country town as everyone, not just the odd passer-by, cheers him, pats him on the back, and treats him like a rock star.
After the Great Northern Football League won the 1987 Westfarmers Championships First Division, smashing the South West 28.8.176 to 7.4.46 and I had my picture in the Guardian - the Geraldton Guardian - no crowds parted as I strode up the street.
The mum of one of the guys I played with said "good win" in Coles.