SXSW 2024: AUDREY is a Dark Family Comedy With Plenty of Bite and a Touch of Heart

The thing to know about Audrey is that it’s hilarious. It’s a deliciously prickly Australian comedy that will remind viewers of Bobcat Goldthwait’s World’s Greatest Dad. Making a film with a dark sense of humor is one thing. Making one that is smart enough to match its wit with pathos is a whole other beast. For director Natalie Bailey and writer Lou Sanz, they make it look disarmingly easy.

Life never turns out the way we think it will, but for former actress Ronnie Lipsick (Jackie van Beek), nothing seems to be going the way she wants. She traded her dreams of stardom for suburban doldrums. Her family barely seems like one at all. Her husband Cormack (Jeremy Lindsay Taylor) lacks the energy to sleepwalk through life. Her youngest daughter Norah (Hannah Diviney) is ready to fast-forward to adulthood. That leaves eldest daughter Audrey (Josephine Blazier). Her dreams deferred, Ronnie has spent her motherhood doing her best to live through Audrey, trying to mold her into a star actress. The result is a toxic home where everyone is miserable but only Audrey has the gumption to lash out.

Then the damnedest thing happens: the family members start to find some semblance of happiness. The catalyst for this change? Oh, just Audrey injuring herself and landing in a coma.

A lesser film would have Audrey be the clear villain. Part of what makes World’s Greatest Dad, so lacerating is just how rotten the main teenager is. What sets Audrey apart is that it’s all too easy to see why she’d be so acidic. What teenager wants to have their life controlled by a parent consumed with chasing their former glory? How could anyone be happy in a family where everyone just wants to get away from each other? 

Audrey’s absence from the home doesn’t bring the family closer together, but it does create enough space for them to go off on their own, unencumbered. Audrey is the sun the family revolved around, but without her presence, their free to chart a new path. For Cormack, that means discovering his true passion. For Norah, she gets out from her big sister’s shadow. Ronnie, well, she steps into Audrey’s shoes, so to speak. Ronnie takes this chance to resume her acting career under her daughter’s name. 

Audrey bounces between absurdist situations, ribald jokes, and plain old silliness. It moves deftly to hit its marks, but it never sells out its characters for easy laughs. Like the best comedies tend to do, the characters drive the humor as much as the story. The longer Audrey’s life hangs in the balance, the more acid-dipped the laughs and character revelations become. For as long as Audrey’s in a coma, the family gets to play out a fantasy of sorts. But that’s temporary. The reality is that Audrey will either wake up and come home or pass away. Both options will set the family on a new trajectory, neither of which is the one they indulge while they’re in a collective limbo.

Bailey and Sanz had my head spinning through the back half of Audrey. Perhaps I’m overthinking this, but in between the copious laughs I found myself in a ponderous headspace. For a movie that opens with a Fleshlight joke, Audrey proved thornier I anticipated.  

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