' Cinema Romantico: Danny Deckchair

Monday, August 20, 2012

Danny Deckchair

It’s a dream, I suspect, we’ve all had – to float away. I’ve been tubing on the Iowa River in my home state and each time I go I can’t say the thought does not cross my mind to simply remain on the tube and it let it carry me away, down past Marshalltown and through Iowa City and on to the Mississippi and then down to New Orleans where I could reinvent myself as a gothic author of some repute with a taste for creole and hurricanes (the drink!) who spent time as a roadie for Lucinda Williams on the “Essence” Tour . The hero of “Danny Deckhair” (2004), Danny Morgan (Rhys Ifans), the Sydney cement mixer with the raggedy hair and whiskers, will eventually float away aboard – as the title implies – a deckchair fashioned with dozens of helium balloons.


“It”, to quote Cameron Diaz in “A Life Less Ordinary,” “is a common scenario.” Which is to say, Danny yearns for the simple things, his girlfriend Trudy (Justine Clarke) sees stars. He wants to get away for an upcoming holiday, she wants to stay home – primarily because through a bit of verbal finesse she has set up a meeting with Sandy Upman (Rhys Muldoon), the local sports reporter who makes all the ladies swoon. Through a classic bit of cinematic happenstance, Danny spies Trudy keeping company with Sandy and then overhears Trudy bemoaning her ordinary life with her ordinary man. So one afternoon at a barbecue a few of Danny’s pals help him create a flyaway deckchair that, against all the odds, winds up doing just that, whisking him into the Australian air, past towering skyscrapers, into military airspace, and eventually into a thundercloud where he disappears.

He re-appears over the skies of Clarence in New South Wales where the fireworks for the macadamia festival shoot him down and cause him to crash-land – sans deckchair – in the backyard tree of Glenda (Miranda Otto), who we sense is a kindly outcast much like Danny because she is watching the fireworks alone as opposed to with gathered townfolk. So when those same townfolk show up at her home after seeing the crash landing, she lies and tells them this mysterious Danny is merely Jeff, her old college professor. Danny acquiesces to the lie, shaves his whiskers, cuts his hair, and invents a whole new persona as Glenda inevitably falls for him and him for her.

Much of “Danny Deckchair” relies on what the esteemed Roger Ebert long ago deemed the Idiot Plot (“A plot that requires all the characters to be idiots – if they weren’t, they’d immediately figure everything out and the movie would be over”). This is because in lieu of his disappearance into the sky, Danny has become a national sensation and his name has cropped up all over newspapers and TVs with media members breathlessly wondering, “Where’s Danny?” There is a scene, in fact, where Glenda and numerous Clarence ladies watch a report in which Trudy is interviewed and his whereabouts are questioned. So, the report mentions his name but never shows his face? He’s a missing man! When a man/woman goes missing what happens? His/Her photo is plastered EVERYWHERE!


Of course, to plaster Danny’s photo everywhere would reveal his identity to the residents of Clarence and the movie would end roughly 40 minutes in. Of course, this is a movie about a man soaring through sky on a deckchair. Suspension of disbelief is required. Of course, this movie is loosely based on fact – which is to say, one Larry Walters who in 1982 flew up to 15,000 feet aboard a lawn chair outfitted with 45 helium weather balloons. How do you suspend disbelief in the face of reality? Of course, if it was meant to be real life it would have been “Larry Lawnchair” rather than “Danny Deckchair” and he would have been fined by the military instead of receiving commendation. Suspension of disbelief is not my problem with this slice of Capra, nor is my problem with the predictability of the plot upon his Clarence landing. No, my problem lies in the uninspiring flourishes of character and situation contained within that plot. With nothing new we wonder how our man Danny could transform into such a new man?

I will grant it credit, however, for one piece of plot that only appears idiotic. So often in these films if the character concealing a truth would simply reveal it earlier in the proceedings (see: “Wedding Crashers”) all the third act turmoil would likely be avoided. At initial glance this seems to be the case with Danny masquerading as Jeff. But as it goes along and we look closer we realize that he can’t bring himself to spill the beans to Glenda because he truly adores this new persona into which he has dived.

It might not make the point as well as it could, but "Danny Deckchair" is all about learning how to be a new person without becoming somebody else.

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