It seems like the Australians are attempting to revive, one by one, all of the moribund Hollywood film genres. They've already taken a stab at Victorian costume dramas and Westerns, now they're moving on to screwball comedy. Stanley is a throwback to the days when Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart and Clark Gable challenged conventional mores, sometimes assisted by, sometimes struggling against female counterparts like Katherine Hepburn, Carol Lombard, and Rosalind Russell. Unfortunately, Stanley is somewhat lacking in the wit that characterized the best of screwball comedy, and its pacing is suspect. Even so, it's a fair amount of fun.
Stanley is the son of an advertising magnate, and he regularly distresses his father (who he refers to as "Sir Dad") by demonstrating his lack of connection with the normal world. After one final fiasco, Stanley is to be put away in a mental home. Having little relish for this prospect, Stanley decides to reform himself by seeking out the most normal family in Australia and emulating them. Having grabbed a name from the company computer, he's off to establish himself as a normal boarder and average worker, with a conventional girlfriend and no odd habits. Alas, the supposedly normal family turns out to be completely crackers, making Stanley look like a bastion of reason, and the chosen girlfriend doesn't want a normal man at all. Moreover, Stanley's father has set a dogged detective on his tail.
Howard Hawks probably could have made a very fine film from this premise. Director Esben Storm's film is merely acceptable. There are some good laughs and the plot doesn't drag, but neither does it move with the kind of manic energy this sort of film requires. There are difficulties with Storm's script, as well. The supposedly normal family is obviously weird from the word go, what with a ghastly collection of garden gnomes and hitching boys in their front yard and a poodle dyed pink. Thus, we lose the fun of gradually seeing that each and every family member has his or her own brand of concealed insanity. Stanley's basic strangeness is insufficiently established at the beginning, as well, making for even less contrast. Storm also supplies Stanley with an odd friend, apparently a psychologist of some kind, who claims that he will be keeping an eye on the whole affair, but then disappears for the rest of the film. He has the look of a character who didn't work and was cut out, except for a single vital expository scene.
The acting, by and large, is adequate but unexciting. Peter Bensley, in the title role, is the one exception. Bensley is both handsome and charming, and is likely to go far in Australian films. He shows a nice talent for light comedy, as well. The only member of the cast likely to be known outside Australia is Nell Campbell, who plays Stanley's reluctant girlfriend. Campbell will doubtless be remembered as Columbia in The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Here, she lacks the charm necessary to bring across her character. Her constant rebuffs of Stanley make her prey to audience dislike, and Campbell doesn't do enough to regain our sympathies.
Stanley, then, is not quite what it sets out to be. Basically, it's not funny enough, and not fast enough to hide it. Stanley is moderately good fun, but not the sort of film one longs to see or waits for with bated breath. It is, in short, a good film to see on cable TV, where it will undoubtedly appear, perhaps after a short run in some of the larger cities. Don't bother looking for it, but if you happen to run across it and have no special plans for a couple of hours, Stanley could give you a modest amount of pleasure.
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