Everyone involved in this movie wants you to like it, so, so much.
There’s nothing wrong with liking movies; where would cinephiles be if we didn’t. Yet none too sparingly a flick comes along never so concerned with its dramatic conceptions than it’s more earnest bona fides here abounding.
In fairness, we all need and love ‘feel good’ movies. Standing Up For Sonny, if notable in some respects, dutifully files into the form’s beaming pantheon.
Travis (RJ Mitte), a maintenance worker at a local school, spends his spare time in the local pub and comedy joint (Surry Hills’ Hollywood Hotel and Café Lounge). When Travis stands up for the titular Sonny (Philippa Northeast) when she is heckled at a gig, soon Sonny’s boyfriend and stock-standard lousy dude-bro/radio personality Mikey (Sam Reid) hires him to help refine her material, as Travis too sets his sights on the comedy stage.
Not trying too greatly to be anything too far beyond predictable, Standing Up For Sonny is a strange one in terms of it’s plotting. A fusion of thirties Fred Astaire/fifties Elvis movies where the guy ends up in all manners of happenstances to get the girl with 2000’s meet cute aesthetics, the film even lingers for a while on a cast-wide rendition of Catch My Disease, acoustics and ukuleles intact.
Something that would have already been on the nose ten years ago, someone should have intervened here.
What does stand out regardless, save the inner-Sydney settings of which the film makes excellent use, is the treatment of disability as reflected in the main characters. Travis, who has cerebral palsy, is front and centre for several confronting sequences highlighting how those in his position can routinely be mistreated. Mitte, carrying much of the film, deserves a lot of credit for the extent to which Travis’ travails are so emotionally resonant. His stand up bits are also very funny even if his character uses the opportunity to state the moral of the story.
Moreover, the decision to depict Travis as a duly complex and not wholly sympathetic character buoys the movie. A singularly dimensional approach to a figure in his particular circumstances is not unlikely in cinema given any filmmaker would fairly want to avoid criticism of creating a negative depiction or perception of a disabled person or persons. A simplistic approach to Travis would have been boring yet in that less than endearing about him we are treated to the film’s best drama as he and those around Travis have to comprehend the ramifications of his actions. Importantly, the film also drives the point home, absent from many other depictions of disability, that persons with disabilities are just like everyone else and to the particular dynamics of this film like each and everyone else they can just as well be jerks.
Home and Away’s Northeast is very good in her first feature role, though Italia Hunt is by far the most memorable as Travis’ vision impaired roommate Gordo and the best mate you’ll always want to have if you ever find yourself in a romcom like this one.
For our interview with RJ Mitte see here