Jackie Mullens (Jo Kennedy) is a rambunctious 17-year-old determined to become a singing star. Angus (Ross O’Donovan), her cousin, is a twerp of 14 who fancies himself as her promoter and manager.
He promises to make her a star so bright she’ll set Sydney on its ear. He writes songs while avoiding school and dreaming up wacky schemes to get his cousin noticed.
Angus and Jackie live in the Harbour View Hotel, beneath the Harbour Bridge in Sydney’s Rocks area. The brewery wants to repossess the pub, so the teenagers set out to win a national talent contest, with a cash prize of $25,000.
Such is the gossamer storyline of Starstruck, a refreshing Australian musical comedy. The style owes something to Fame (1980). One moment ordinary pub patrons are quaffing their ordinary beers and minding their ordinary business. Suddenly music blows up from somewhere, and the old ladies and gents turn into a conga line. Or suddenly Jackie is practising her high-wire act on a rope strung above the bar.
“I want a band, I want amplifiers, I want I want I want,” says Jackie at the start of the film, just as she notices a kangaroo suit in a shop window. She wants that too and winds up wearing it to amateur night at the Lizard Lounge.
In that get-up, she looks smashing on her cousin Angus’s motor scooter.
Jackie’s innocent dream is an old movie dream, and her fate is an old movie fate. Thanks to some crafty wangling by Angus, Jackie meets writer/TV host Terry Lambert (John O’May) and her career starts rolling.
The grand finale talent show is staged in Australia’s most famous building, the Sydney Opera House.
Director Gillian Armstrong, coming back from a four-year hiatus after My Brilliant Career, settles for a winsome tone and doesn’t try to explain her characters’ psychology or account for their zany stunts. Spectacle is enough, especially when Jackie is on her high wire.
Armstrong is very clearly aiming at a feminist revision of depictions of working-class and masculine Australia.
The pub is run by two strong women – Pearl and Nana, the grandmother of Angus, and most of the men who hang around the pub are no-hopers, like Angus’s father, who steals money from the safe or Max Cullen’s Reg, who’s devoted to his pet cockatoo, Wally.
A very funny sequence in a rooftop pool satirises the masculine image of Australian lifesavers, in a gay water ballet, choreographed to look like a routine from an Esther Williams musical.
Most of the musical numbers are on the saccharine side, and many look as if they were engineered especially for the MTV network. But Jackie defines star quality as “that little something extra”. She has it, and so does the movie.