Review: West of Sunshine

13 August 2018

Wednesday, 9.37 am. 5 minutes after the film had already started, my sister and I walked into cinema 9 for a screening of West of Sunshine.

“It’s a film about Melbourne’s west, you should come with me,” I’d said to Tilly. It was a highly reductive summary, leaving out every single plot element, but it worked—the westside born-and-raised Morley sisters will go see anything that acknowledges our beloved western suburbs.

In a similar vein to Paul Ireland’s 2015 feature Pawno (also starring Damian Hill), West of Sunshine is a social realist drama that plays out against the background of outer Melbourne’s freeways and suburban streets. It centres on the relationship between Jim and his young son Alex, and the ways in which that is tested over the course of a single, hectic day.

Stranded on a school-free day without anyone to look after him, Alex has no other choice but to accompany his dad Jim on his deliveries as a courier. The stress of the situation is heightened by a looming debt, which he accumulated through his gambling habits, and a time limit on the repayment: 5 pm that very day. Jim’s desperate efforts to acquire a large sum of money in such a short time lead the father and son across the city, and through encounters with people of varying social class and malicious intent. When his final attempt at repaying the debt unexpectedly poses a threat to his son’s life, Jim is forced to reconsider (undoubtedly, not for the first time) aspects of his life and choose a new path.

Through Jim, West of Sunshine provides a highly sentimental and optimistic perspective on shitty fathers. To some, I suppose this may come across as empathy. Director Jason Raftopoulos captures the sense of desperation that is embedded in the cycle of addiction and makes its impact felt, but this is undermined by forced moments of poignant reflection thrown in at various intervals as the film meanders from stress to stress. Nonetheless, some of you will find familiarities within its 78-minute running time: maybe it mirrors your own experiences, the life of someone you know, or maybe you just recognise the characters from your own hometown in the array of suburban archetypes. Watching this film, I felt like I’d already met these people could have sworn they’re the same as the ones I pass in the street every day.

This film is recommended for those from shitty towns and for those with shitty fathers. Or both—you’ll definitely “get” it.


West of Sunshine is in cinemas 23 August.

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