Brenda Blethyn is a force of nature, which is simultaneously the best and worst part of the Australian comedy “Introducing the Dwights.”
As Jean Dwight, a once-promising comedian still hungry for the limelight decades past her prime, she simply radiates energy on the nightclub stage, with her corny jokes and sparkly dresses. It’s observational humor — stuff about ironing, aging, what it’s like to have sex with a heavyset man, which she delivers with a conspiratorial wink and a smile. Nothing earth-shattering, but it’s enough to earn her the moniker of “clubland’s raunchiest housewife.”
At home in suburban Sydney, though, she still has to be the constant center of attention. And so she flies into vicious fits of jealousy when one of her two sons, the 20-year-old virgin Tim (Khan Chittenden), falls in love for the first time.
Her sharp-tongued cruelty toward his pretty, assertive girlfriend, Jill (Australian model Emma Booth) is bitingly funny at first, especially because Jill can dish it out as well as she can take it. But mum’s neediness eventually devolves into drunken histrionics, which are just too much to take and nearly destroy any good will Blethyn had built up through the course of the film.
A little of this shrill drama goes a long way, and we get to witness a lot of it. Movies like “Little Voice” and “Secrets and Lies” have given Blethyn a welcome chance to show a softer side beneath her innate brassiness.
Director Cherie Nowlan does reveal a light touch with other material that could have been cringe-inducing, though, namely the character of Mark (Richard Wilson), Jean’s wisecracking other son, who suffered brain damage at birth and does a horrible job of concealing Tim’s new love from their smothering mother.
Frankie J. Holden co-stars as Jean’s estranged husband, a one-hit wonder who’s also sweetly, pathetically delusional about his star potential. He works as a supermarket security guard while secretly peddling his self-recorded disc of Conway Twitty cover tunes; the movie is kind enough never to make fun of him for sport.
“Introducing the Dwights” comes from screenwriter Keith Thompson and was inspired by his own childhood, tagging along with his mom on gigs when she played with a dance band in England. But his writing is actually more compelling away from the crowds and the applause, when it’s just Tim and Jill in a candlelit bedroom, awkwardly getting to know each other.
While Jill is sexually aggressive in a way that’s completely intimidating to Tim, she’s also a bit insecure as she continues to find her sense of self as a woman. Tim, meanwhile, is a good-looking, shy guy who’s never had a chance to establish his own identity away from his tight-knit family. The two allow themselves to be vulnerable in front of each other in a way that’s unexpected, given the tone of the rest of the film, and Chittenden and Booth have a lovely, natural chemistry together.
There’s nothing lovely, however, about the movie’s bombastic ending, but there are enough small moments until then to make this mixed-up experience vaguely worthwhile.