Review: The Merger18 June 2018
I am a petty person. Whenever someone says they’re from a small town, I ask them the name of the town and then quietly Google the population. Then I grin like the cat that got the cream because my small town is almost always smaller than their small town and it gives me a strange sense of superiority. I will try to continue the conversation normally but all I can think is, “Your town has a high school and a café, how small can it be? You don’t know the true small town life.” This weird/concerning superiority complex extends to films. It’s rare that I see a small town depicted on the screen and think, “Ah yeah, can relate. Nailed it.” There’s always too many young people who have exciting and important things to do other than driving aimlessly around, and the isolation of small towns is often grossly romanticized to appeal to city audiences.
So, heading into watch The Merger, with contraband guac and corn chips stuffed in my backpack, I wasn’t expecting to watch the first eighteen years of my life played out fairly accurately on the big screen. Sure, the game of choice back home is rugby not AFL, and our pub burnt down in 2015, but the creators of The Merger have managed to pay homage to the tiny towns that dot inland Australia in a way that made me queasy with homesickness.
The Merger, directed by Mark Grentell, centres around Troy Carrington (Damian Callinan), once a professional AFL player, now a grassroots activist/almost hermit who is known around Bodgy Creek as “Town Killer” due to his role in shutting down the local timber mill. Troy lives an isolated life until Bodgy Creek’s beloved footy team, the Roosters, are given an ultimatum—merge or fold. The town begrudgingly turns to Troy, who realises that with the help of the recently arrived refugees, the Roosters may have a chance at staying in the game. What follows is a heart-warming comedy filled with slapstick humour, classic Aussie self-deprecation and a genuine message of hope for a brighter, more accepting Australia. John Howard plays the classic Baby Boomer granddad/villain with outdated views, and Rafferty Grierson is phenomenal as his grandson Neil. I live for him in his rooster onesie calling everyone a dickhead with 100% sincerity.
The attention to detail is insane. The constant chatter from the local radio station—the Men’s Shed will not be going ahead this week because so-and-so has had his knee replacement—the chip shop not existing anymore, the exclusive use of nicknames… I have since fallen into the habit of watching the trailer before I go to bed and may have hastily booked flights to Sydney and then coerced a sibling into driving me home for the weekend.
I do have one gripe about this film, one scene that makes me gag. Troy, Neil and Neil’s mum Angie (the brilliant Kate Mulvany) play “Canola Bowls” which consists of them frolicking in a bright yellow canola crop playing a DIY version of ten pin bowling. Angie even has a sprig of canola tucked behind her ear like a frangipani. This would never happen because canola stinks worse than a pig truck going through town and is three-quarters of the reason I rarely leave the confines of the city. But don’t let that stop you from going to see this absolute gem of a film.