Film

‘Alex And Eve’ Reviewed: Finally, A Rom-Com That Reflects What Multicultural Australia Really Feels Like

It's hopeful, nuanced, funny and romantic, without buying into racial stereotypes. Why are movies like this so rare?

On Tuesday this week, in the outer western suburbs of Melbourne, I attended a preview screening of new Australian film Alex and Eve. Represented among the audience was a mix of Greek-, Lebanese- and Anglo-Australians; a diverse group that was united by laughter, joy, and hope.

Director Peter Andrikidis (Wog Boy 2, Underbelly, East West 101) and writer Alex Lykos have achieved what many before them have failed at: they’ve delivered a humorous Australian multicultural love story that doesn’t buy into racial stereotypes. The film hit our cinemas yesterday. I think it’s going to be huge.

Alex (Richard Brancatisano) is a Greek Orthodox school teacher, and Eve (Andrea Demetriades) is Lebanese Muslim lawyer; both were born in Australia, and living in Sydney. As a daughter of Greek-Cypriot migrants myself, we’re taught that while we can be friends with Muslims, the religious and political differences mean marriage is a no-go. But when Alex and Eve meet at a Sydney Harbour-side bar, both there with their Anglo friends, they instantly connect. The story starts from there.

This film should not be dismissed as another My Big Fat Greek Wedding, the 2002 hit which offered big laughs at the expense of an accurate portrayal of the real challenges faced by the children of migrants. Alex and Eve, while maintaining humour throughout, does not shy away from the nuances of the pressure to conform, nor does it succumb to love story clichés; in fact, it nails the more complicated issues we deal with every day. Semi-autobiographical in nature, it explores interracial and interfaith dating within a wider Australian – or let’s say ‘Anglo’ – context; based on Lykos’ successful play, first staged in 2006, the screenplay cleverly weaves cultural politics into a comedic narrative, while also questioning the nature of love in all of its complexities.

Yet on a fundamental level, this is a film all Australians can relate to. Unlike many ‘ethnic’ shows or films, Lykos has not told his cultural story in isolation from the rest of Australia; by including characters from all sorts of backgrounds, he brings to cinema screens the true face of Australia to tell a hopeful story of how love – rather than violence and hate – can bring us together.

There was a real sense of unity in the theatre after the screening, the likes of which I’ve never experienced after watching an Australian movie. People stuck around to talk. A group of Lebanese women wanted to watch it again; they seemed relieved that their everyday lives, both the good and the bad, were being shown within an uplifting context. I attended with my parents, and although they laughed throughout, there were serious moments in which the film acted as a mirror, validating their own fears and regrets as both parents and migrants. Eve is Lebanese, but I related personally to the love/hate relationship she has with her family and culture, and the yearning to break free to live her own life.

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All the performances are exceptional, but Demetriades (no relation) is the stand-out as Eve. Although the actor is Cypriot, she plays believably as Lebanese; in one of my favourite scenes, she dances provocatively with a vacuum cleaner after an enticing date with Alex. Andrikidis slows time to deconstruct the role of the woman and the conflict between culture, duty and natural desire. It’s one of the many moments in which the director adds depth to the story, rather than taking the easy stereotypical route. (Of course, some characterisations are amplified — like the father, played by Tony Nikolakapoulos. But in the context of this genre, it works.)

It’s hard to believe, but this story was almost never told. After receiving countless rejections, Lykos created his own theatre company to stage the show himself. He had to distribute photocopied flyers in letterboxes and on car windows — but the show repeatedly sold out, and was widely acclaimed. Receiving only a small portion of Screen Australia funding for script development in 2010 ($34,000), the film was launched nationally at The Greek Film Festival this year, where extra sessions were added to cater for demand.

Australians love rom coms, but we tend to prefer international ones. Wog Boy, Muriel’s Wedding and Strictly Ballroom have been among our most successful attempts at the genre, but while they all tell love stories, they’re not straight rom coms. Muriel’s Wedding doesn’t have a central love story; Wog Boy does, but the film is less about love and more about fitting into Australian culture as a ‘wog’. Strictly Ballroom is probably the closest we’ve come to exploring the complexities of interracial relationships within the romantic comedy genre, but it’s certainly an original take on it.

What these three films have in common is that the romance is backgrounded by the central story: that of a ‘black sheep’ breaking out. Maybe Australians want more than just a straight rom com; we want character depth, social complexities, something more than flowers and hearts. The most interesting love stories never take place in isolation — they are always part of a larger dialogue, in which social and political issues intertwine. Alex and Eve delivers all that, but gives the romance pride of place, making it a unique film for Australia.

We need to fund and produce more stories like this; stories which move away from stereotypes to tell enjoyable, unifying and nuanced stories that reflect multicultural Australia, and have the power to heal some of our deepest wounds. Alex and Eve won’t disappoint.

Alex and Eve is in select cinemas around Australia now. To find a screening near you, head to the film’s website.

Koraly Dimitriadis is an acclaimed poet, writer, actor and performer who has been published in Rendezview and Daily Life. Her controversial poetry book, ‘Love and F**k Poems’, is a bestseller for poetry in Australia with rights sold to UK and Greece. She tweets from @koralyd