When Reverend Anthony Campion and his wife Estella arrive at their train station and discover the conundrum of communicating with local Australians, audiences immediately get a taste for the humorous nature of the material they're in for. Unfortunately, it can prove misleading in the long run because the sporadic use of humourous Australian stereotypes plays second fiddle to the higher class British elements of the narrative. The latter dominates the film so heavily that it becomes easy to forget that the film is Australian, with the dialogue of the supporting characters being the only essential reminder of this factor. Nevertheless, Sirens is focused predominantly on its two British characters and their journey through an awakening in a different culture. It's a journey through a romanticized vision of Australia which enters fantasy territory frequently, offering an experience which may prove magical to some viewers while seeming indulgent to others. I found a middle ground between the two through appreciating the stylish nature of the film, but ultimately it was the lack of substance and originality which deters me from recommending Sirens.
Sirens ends up playing out as a literal cinematic interpretation of the meanings and messages intended by Norman Lindsay's actual paintings. It is a film which is pretty to look at and rather charming with its classical vibes while enticing with its nudity, but nothing actually happens. The actions of the characters reflect the symbolism in Norman Lindsay's works in that they are free spirited in nature and sexuality. But nothing actually happens in the story. I had no idea who Norman Lindsay was prior to seeing the film, and after seeing it all I know is that he was a man who painted naked women. The deeper elements of his character are forgone by a narrative which reduces him to an elusive supporting figure while the story struggles to establish who is more important out of the two British protagonists. With character development being inconsistent throughout a narrative in which nothing really happens, there is little compelling audiences to care about anything except the next moment in which characters will get naked. Though the is potential for Sirens to open up discussion about the changing social norms and their conflict with conservative ideals of religion and gender roles, this is an afterthought in a story which plays it all off in favour of a tongue-in-cheek approach. Any insight that audiences find in the film pertaining to its discussion of sexual awakening or contemporary social norms has already been covered before in superior narratives of greater insight. While Sirens' more lighthearted nature may allow audiences to absorb its ideals in an easy viewing experience, those in search of a genuinely thought provoking narrative need not apply. Sirens is short on narrative and slowly paced with only minor support from its stylish features.
Nevertheless, Sirens is certainty a beauty to look at. The scenery is remarkable and highlights some of Australia's most lush locations. Everything is always rich in colour and emphasized with a keen eye for detail, reinforced all the more by the exquisite production design and costumes. Sirens almost borders upon being a costume drama at times, though it lacks the melodramatic edge to be defined as one. Furthermore, the musical score is delightful because it has such a rich composition to it that the feeling is very classical yet it is also very lighthearted. This is one of the first things audiences will note when viewing Sirens, and it remains consistent in keeping the film atmospheric without being used too heavily.
Sirens is also worth commending for the way it uses nudity. The way that nudity is played off so artistically and naturally puts a positive vibe around the film's sexual awakening elements. Nudity is presented as a thing of beauty, much like the stunning scenery in the film. It is never explicit or exploitive, even when the cinematography occasionally takes on a voyeuristic perspective. Even though it is primarily women who appear nude in the film, women are still the main characters which highlights the importance of their role in the film beyond just being attractive to look at. It's certainly not developed to the depth that I would certify as innovative, but the good intentions are clear.
And there is also a lot of charm brought into Sirens on the backbone of a talented cast.
Hugh Grant offers a solid leading performance. Though I'm not one to be particularly fond of Hugh Grant, I found his role in Sirens to be a strong sign of his recognized appeal. Through the absence of thesis perceived pompous edge from films such as Bridget Jones' Diary (2001), he presents someone who struggled to understand Australian culture but doesn't remove himself from it. He gently engages with the ideals his character learns of as he discovers the world of Norman Lindsay, and his open-mindedness brings a welcoming likability to the character. Hugh Grant is a leading man with restrained charm whose talent overshadows the lack of general development in his character, and it makes Sirens more enjoyable.
Unfortunately, Tara Fitzgerald doesn't play that much of an interesting character. Despite coming from the same context as Hugh Grant's character, the majority of her genuine development is a one-dimensional "discovery" of her sexual identity where she remains resistant to the culture around her until essentially the last minute of the film. She puts up a dull shell for much of the film and displays too few emotions to be all that captivating, even though she is the central character for the film. Tara Fitzgerald isn't particularly bad in the role, but she doesn't have any distinctive charm to warrant making her the key character.
Sam Neill is certainly a good presence though. The presence of Norman Lindsay as a character in Sirens is fairly wasteful since he's a real-life iconic figure who is reduced to being an abstract one in Sirens, but Sam Neill has no problem capturing the sophisticated intelligence and wit of the man. He entices audiences with his genuine charisma, and you could expect nothing less from him.
Elle Macpherson and Kate Fischer play an enjoyable role in Sirens, particularly because they spend much of the film naked. And the presence of a younger Portia de Rossi and Ben Mendelsohn is nostalgic.
Sirens is an easygoing and stylish piece of cinema, but it's overtly slow pace and lack of originality or story development makes it less intellectually stimulating.
Let's call the film what it really is: a great way to get five very sexy women fully naked. Yep, I kid you not the film even ends with some crazy five naked full frontal women posing on the top of a mountain. And ladies, the one NON famous dude is pretty much hanging it out the whole time as well.
To call this an erotic flick is not far fetched. There is kind of a story of Tara Fitzgerald being a prude and this little visit to Sam Neill painting all these women naked every other scene opens her up. But that is basically the plot.
I will say it isn't in your face sex or anything, but it's like watching a nude painting for 90 minutes.
I will say that Portia De Rossi is very good here, playing the girl that is kind of afraid of going nude at first and wanting said naked guy. She really also has the only character development going on here.
And while Elle MacPherson isn't awful, she does always have this smirk on her face...
But who am I kidding. She was a huge favorite Supermodel of mine when I was growing up and wow...what a body. :)
The rating actually says rated R for ABUNDANT NUDITY...I have never seen that before and it made me laugh writing this!