Starring: Noni Hazlehurst, Colin Friels
Director: Ken Cameron
Rated: M 15+
Distributor: AV Channel
Sex ‘n drugs ‘n rock ‘n roll are not quite all Nora’s brain and body need. She’s a writer bringing up two kids in the late ’70s and although she’s surrounded by a bevy of actors, artists and musos, she needs to find her own creative expression to reach her true fulfilment. However she complicates matters when she falls hard for a junkie who leads her heart a merry dance astray.
Based on Helen Garner’s award-winning, autobiographical novel, Monkey Grip is laced with knowing narration starting out with an encounter at the deep end of a swimming pool one summer and ending up right back there at Aqua Profunda exactly one year later. The story is set in Carlton but the film was actually shot in Sydney in 1981 and it launched the career of Noni Hazlehurst, a pint-sized pocket rocket who won a Best Actress AFI Award for her beautifully nuanced performance as Nora. Colin Friels is also terrific as the infuriating heroin addict Javo, a guy with serious commitment issues. Integral to the portrayal of their relationship are several sexy lovemaking scenes that director Ken Cameron and his crew all rehearsed starkers to put both actors at ease and the technique seems to have worked wonders.
The other crucial relationship in this film is that between Nora and her wise-beyond-her-years daughter Gracie, played by Garner’s own daughter Alice. And lending the whole story its’ authentic rock ‘n roll sensibility is Chrissie Amphlett as the wounded front woman Angela. There’s a scene with her and Nora in the bathroom of a recording studio that shows just what a fine actress she is and her edgy performances with her band ‘The Divinyls’ provide some of the real highlights of the piece.
Monkey Grip is a revealing insight into the machinations of the female mind and how it grappled with the idea of free love in the ’70s. And its pure honesty makes it still resonate today.