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Cloudburst: a rollicking road trip

Film & TV

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Cloudburst is like a geriatric lesbian version of Thelma and Louise – a rowdy road trip starring Oscar winners Olympia Dukakis and Brenda Fricker as a couple of feisty, 70-something lovers who go on the run to stay together.

About as far removed from the sophisticated Sapphic-centric world of The L Word as Packed to the Rafters is from Geordie Shore, this Canadian feature film is firmly grounded in the real world. It’s gritty and sad, but also, at times, an absolute crack-up.

Dukakis is a tour de force as the uncompromising, hard-edged (but soft-centred) Stella, who has been with Dot (Fricker) for 31 years. Although Dot is legally blind, the two are perfectly happy living independently in their own home, enjoying the pleasures of a long-term loving relationship with its comforting domesticity and shared sunsets – until Dot’s granddaughter Molly (Kristin Booth) decides to interfere.

Determined they won’t be parted, Stella hatches a plan: the couple will drive to Nova Scotia, Canada, to get married and thereby cement their relationship in the eyes of the law. There is plenty of drama and hilarity along the way, as the ageing “outlaws” seek to evade the police whom Stella is convinced are looking for them.

They pick up hitchhiker Prentice (Ryan Doucette) to help with their cover, but the young man, on his way to visit his dying mother, ends up playing a key role in their battle to stay together. Prentice also has his own family dramas, and the scene where the trio visit his parents’ home is both hilarious and harrowing.

Cloudburst is described as a romantic comedy, but in many ways that categorisation underplays the power of this film by writer and director Thom Fitzgerald (Hanging Garden). The script is so sharp that at times it pierces your heart, yet the inherent optimism and humour (there are some sterling one-liners) make you wish you could stay on the road with Dot and Stella.

Dukakis and Fricker are sublime, infusing Stella and Dot’s relationship with a tenderness that is never undermined by overt sentimentality. Dukakis, especially, deserves another Oscar for a scene-stealing performance in which expletives (including the c-word) role off her tongue with the ease you’d expect from a teenage rapper. If we could only all age so disgracefully!

Cloudburst eschews the lavender n lace, knit-one, purl-one, sugar and spice and all things nice stereotypes that abound about old ladies. It also shines a spotlight on a western society that has a shameful tendency to disrespect both elderly people and same-sex relationships.

A brilliant film which deserves the multiple film festival awards it has won. It’s taken two years to bring it to Australia, but it was well worth the wait. Do yourself a favour: take the road trip with Stella and Dot.

Cloudburst opens at the Mercury and Trak Cinemas on Thursday.

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