Paperback Hero (1999)

Hugh Jackman (Jack), Claudia Karvan (Ruby), Angie Milliken (Ziggy)

Directed by Antony J. Bowman (hasn't directed anything else of note, but he wrote the book and screenplay it's adapted from)

Summary: An Australian road train driver (long haul trucker) who writes romances novels in secret has just become a bestseller. He convinces his engaged best friend to come with him to Sydney promote the book--coz he chose her name for his pseudonym.

I've wanted to see this for ages because a) Hugh Jackman, long before he was Wolvie famous, and b) the plot sounded right up my alley. However, the film doesn't have US distribution, so it's impossible to find here. I even went so far as to ask for it for Christmas on a Region 2 disk, even thought that meant messing with my computer settings to get it to play.

Luckily, there's YouTube! Finally! Probably for a limited time only, a kindly German posted his/her copy online. If you've ever wanted to see it, now's your chance.

So, yeah, it was cute. But that's about it. The plot line skated just near enough to an actual romance to be intriguing--would they play it straight or tongue-in-cheek--without actually following through with the quality mush. A key moment, when Jack has to go home and face the fallout from his friends, is never portrayed, and neither is the revelation of what happened between Jack and Ziggy in Sydney. Romance novels don't have loose ends, unless those ends are unmarried siblings/cousins/best friends.

What I found most interesting was my almost complete detachment from Hugh Jackman's performance. It's like he found himself by playing Wolverine, and he's never looked back from that harder "look at me" edge. Here he was rather self-effacing and almost camera shy, without the sexy intensity viewers have come to expect from him (or from how others direct him). In other words, the director didn't showcase him as a star, which was a letdown.

Most of the other performances were forgettable bordering on bad. In one panoramic aerial shot, the shadow of the camera helicopter can be seen on the ground. The karaoke scene was cringe-worthy (but I have yet to see a karaoke scene that isn't). And the editing, in parts, sucked. In other words, this was an indie film that would've been entirely forgotten without the worldwide fame of its male lead. I liked seeing it if only as a reminder than not every movie released in a given year is polished and ready for the prime time. Some don't need to be, but it challenges our expectations as viewers to see a film that's less-than-Hollywood slick.

Oh, but the first kiss was nice. You don't often see the first kiss being a neck kiss. And I looked up the Eureka flag when I saw it, coz I'm curious that way.

See it for Hugh or to satisfy your curiosity about this oft-discussed flick. Otherwise just gear up for Wolverine later this year. Here's a pic:

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