Greeks Bearing Rifts

While channel surfing, back in 2015, I hit upon a new American mini-series entitled THE SLAP.  It was flawed, but interesting and different enough for me to immediately glom that it must have been ripped off from some British, Australian or European source.  No surprise that sometime later Acorn Media/RLJ Entertainment/Film Victoria offered up the original 2011 Melbourne-lensed 8-part show (now available on DVD), and certainly no shock that it is leaps and bounds superior to its Silly Puttied remake.

In essence, American Slap is exactly that – a dumbed-down edition of its Aussie parent.  The show is like a Lifetime Movie version of Mourning Becomes Electra, with the accent on “mourning” and starring Carmen Electra.  Like all contemporary American-produced TV entries/movies, it’s too perfect.  Everyone looks like they were cast from Chippendale/Victoria Secret cattle calls.  All live in beautiful homes, have unrealistic dream jobs and are immune to problems involving weight, acne, bad hair, hemorrhoids and the dreaded heartbreak of psoriasis.

2011’s THE SLAP takes a simple act of insane violence, and masterfully uses it to rip off a phony veil masking our post-Millennium society.  At a Greek-Australian mixed couple’s backyard celebration, the children play while the adults play around.  Amongst the tykes is Hugo (Julian Mineo), a junior sociopath in the making, an out-of-control urchin whose aberrant behavior is nurtured by his negligent unhip hippie-esque parents (Melissa George, Anthony Hayes), who encourage the child’s awfulness as unbridled freedom of expression.  Since this encompasses destroying other people’s property, and then grabbing a bat and threatening the other children, it’s not surprising that one outspoken, womanizing, abusive, ruthless (aka, financially successful) parent (Alex Dimitriades) literally takes matters into his own hand, and smacks the little bastard.  This causes a split among all these “friends” and relatives that ruptures the relationships forever, ultimately causing more violence, sexual misconduct, a heinous court trial and the end of marriage as we know it.  Truth be told, I’m vehemently against violence, but I wanted to do some slapping myself – on the psycho tot’s mater and pater.

Before continuing along this vein, it’s pertinent to do a bit more comparisons between the two versions.

Simply put, Australian SLAP pulls no punches.  The protagonists aren’t perfect specimens, the kids have weight problems, the gorgeous nymphet babysitter (Sophie Lowe) that lead hubby lusts after (and vice versa) is attractive, but not swimsuit model ridiculous (as in the Yank pretty-not-gritty rendition).  The horrible couple who sired Junior Ted Bundy ain’t that svelte either (the male version being on the dumpy side; the wife, a little worse for wear than her American cousin – a point worth noting as the actress portraying her – the excellent Melissa George – revived her role for the U.S. production, the only repeat cast member).

Other issues I had with the candy-ass version:  One of the lead character’s cancer-stricken mother (Gillian Jones) is not a celebrated beautiful artiste, living in a spectacular mansion and planning to end her days with another daughter at Oxford; she’s an average middle class mom, living in a dog-eared apartment, who quietly succumbs midway through the proceedings.

I could go on and on, but methinks you get the message.

Australian SLAP has the better cast, too (although Thandie Newton did splendid work in the American show); Nigerian-British thesp Sophie Okonedo is absolutely spot-on as the wife feeling trapped by her husband’s overbearing extremely Greek immigrant parents.  Jonathan LaPaglia (yeah, Anthony’s younger bro) is perfect as the conflicted husband, who knows not which side to take, thinks with his dick and puts the kibosh on his okay life (he has a listless, though decent-paying, job unlike his super-size-me American counterpart, who was assistant the New York City mayor or some such nonsense.  I forget.).

Perhaps the most famous of Australian SLAP‘s roster is the actress playing Anouk, the Ashkenazi Jewish TV executive, who boy-toys it up with a rising actor/rock musician (Oliver Ackland).  It’s Essie Davis, unlike anything her U.S. TV fans are used to seeing.  She’s a stunning 41-year-old woman rife with problems, phobias and an amorous urge spectacularly realized in a rather graphic sex scene (naturally played down in the After School Special American edition).  Apparently, she has learned much sophisticated boudoir expertise from her Phyrne Fisher alter ego (or, to paraphrase the Geico ad, “Anouk know where Anouk go!”).  It should also be mentioned that her character was interpreted in the American tame-lame series by its most famous cast member, Uma Thurman; it also seems likely that Thurman watched the Australian episodes, as she seems to be deliberately doing an Essie Davis impression (or Zombie-Anouk, as Thurman is minus the nuances of authentic emotion).

THE SLAP is broken up into eight episodes, each chronicling one of the main characters: Hector (the beleaguered, weak husband, LaPaglia); Anouk (the Essie Davis character); Harry (the slap-happy mofo who instigates the entire mess, Dimitriades); Connie (the nubile babysitter with the overactive libido, aka, Lowe); Rosie (the Melissa George horrible mom); Manolis (the aging patriarch of the Greek clan, yearning to touch a young woman’s breasts once more before he dies – a reasonable request, believably enacted by Lex Marinos); Aisha (Okonedo’s unhappy spouse, who flirts with slipping into adultery); and Richie (Connie’s closeted boyfriend with a penchant for Internet stalking, Blake Davis).

THE SLAP deservedly won a slew of awards from the various Australian Oscar and Emmy equivalents, as well as a coveted UK BAFTA nominee for Best International Program.

The direction (by Robert Connolly, Jessica Hobbs, Matthew Saville and coproducer Tony Ayres) and the writing (by Emily Ballou, Alice Bell, Brendan Cowell, Kris Mrksa and Cate Shortland, from Christos Tsiolkas’ bestselling novel) is top-line, as is Andrew Commis’ terrific widescreen camerawork and Irine Vela and Antony Partos’ music (in cool, pulsating surround stereo).

The Acorn DVD 3-disc set looks and sounds just swell, about as good as it can get in the format.

Long story short, THE SLAP is enthusiastically recommended for those rapidly diminishing creatures who crave engrossing, grown-up fare.  It’s so addictive that one might be tempted to view the entire series in a single sitting.  As a further purchase incentive, there are hours of extras, including deleted scenes, a making-of documentary and social media clips.

Short story short, whose ever side one takes, THE SLAP is sure to make a hit.

THE SLAP.  Color. Widescreen [2.40:1; 16 x 9 anamorphic]; Dolby Digital surround audio.  Acorn Media/RLJ Entertainment (in association with DCD rights, ABC, matchbox, Film Victoria).  Cat # AMP-2440.  SRP:  $39.99.




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