A jaunty little road picture in which Olympia Dukakis sets off on a voyage of self-discovery through eastern Australia, OVER THE HILL runs into engine trouble in the last miles.
After burying her husband of many years, and moving in with her married son Hank (Gerry Connolly), Alma Harris (Dukakis) feels smothered and at loose ends. She arrives unannounced at the Sydney doorstep of her estranged daughter Elizabeth (Sigrid Thornton), the wife of politician Alan Forbes
(Martin Jacobs). Hitting it off immediately with her adolescent granddaughter, Margaret (Pippa Grandison), who's running around with Nick (Aden Young)--of whom her parents disapprove--Alma demands to know why her daughter is so angry with her. When no answer is forthcoming--the Forbes are enmeshed
in an upcoming election--the frustrated Alma buys Nick's souped-up 1959 Chevy Bel-Aire and takes off for Melbourne.
En route to the increasingly empty desert country, she first meets an itinerant couple, Jan (Andrea Moor) and Benedict (Steve Bisley), who live by free-loading, then Dutch (Derek Fowlds), a retired dentist abandoned by wife and children, who now roams the outback in the well-equipped RV which
Alma has been regularly running into--literally. When she uses up her money, Alma pumps gas and keeps house for Maurio (Bill Kerr), who's smitten by her, although she's more attracted to Dutch, who later saves her--and is in turn saved by her--from a pack of road hoodlums. Elizabeth turns up in a
helicopter to bring home Alma and Margaret, who has joined her, home, but they argue and Elizabeth stalks off. She reappears, this time by seaplane, interrupting Alma and Dutch's seaside frolic, but the result is the same. After befriending some aboriginal women and joining in a night-time
campfire ceremony, Alma has a vision of a humpback whale caught in a net and races back to Sydney, where she finally has it out with Elizabeth and her husband as well as the newly-arrived Hank. Reconciled with everyone, Alma jumps back in her Chevy and returns to a surprised Dutch, and the pair
head off into a majestic sunset closing over Ayer's Rock.
Based on Gladys Taylor's book Alone in the Australian Wilderness, OVER THE HILL was originally written by Eleanor Witcomb (MY BRILLIANT CAREER) for director Nadia Tass (MALCOLM, PURE LUCK), a teaming which promised a more incisive feminist take than the finished film reveals. Its screenplay is
now credited solely to co-producer Robert Caswell, and it's directed by George Miller. Despite Caswell's exceptional screenplays for A CRY IN THE DARK and THE DOCTOR, much of his writing here is pedestrian. Luckily, Miller's keeps the film on track until the very end, and Caswell's material is
genially well-performed, particularly by veterans Bill Kerr as the lonely gas-station owner and Derek Fowlds as the opera-loving, wandering ex-dentist. Olympia Dukakis looks to be having a lark, and her performance is a continually nuanced delight, with her early scenes economically suggesting the
closed-down, unnecessarily empty quality of her life slowly emerging into the self-confidence and joy at discovering freedom, and a new love, on the road.
Caswell's script and Miller's direction sink into a murky swamp of heavy drama for the movie's grandstanding conclusion, disappointing on two fronts. First, Elizabeth's lifelong anger at her mother is based solely on her adolescent perception that her father squashed her mother's life, and that
Alma accepted this submission, and second, Sigrid Thornton's performance falls short; Elizabeth remains brittle and unsympathetic even through the final, teary reconciliation clinch. Miller uses his gorgeous Australian locations, all sharply photographed in Panavision by David Connell, with an
aplomb the Australian Tourist Board would applaud. Produced and copyrighted in 1991, OVER THE HILL premiered at the 1992 Cannes Festival market section and was released in an unobtrusively pan-and-scanned version direct-to-video in the US. (Nudity, sexual situations, adult situations.)
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- Released: 1992
- Rating: PG
- Review: A jaunty little road picture in which Olympia Dukakis sets off on a voyage of self-discovery through eastern Australia, OVER THE HILL runs into engine trouble in the last miles. After burying her husband of many years, and moving in with her married son… (more)