Writing a critical review for something you enjoy is a lot harder than writing a review for something you did not. I have seen Dating the Enemy a good twenty times at least and am finding it extremely hard to think of things to write, despite having written a lengthy essay about the film only six months ago.
In thinking about this film for my essay last year, I realised that Dating the Enemy is one of the most complicated films in Australia’s history to discuss. The film itself might look like a simple body swap story line, but when discussing specifics about the characters, it takes a bit of extra effort to note whose body is being used at the time. The film starts out when Brett and Tash meet at a party for sad lonely singles held by a mutual friend on Valentine’s Day. They end up getting together at the end of the party, and then the film moves forward one year into the future. Brett and Tash still together, but the situation has quite obviously changed. Their anniversary evening ends with Tash saying, “I wish you could be me so you could see how I feel for once. I wish I could be you so I can show you what an idiot you’ve become.”
Tash’s words is the turning point for the film’s plot, as it appears to be the reason they swap bodies in a couple of weeks’ time. The film depends a lot on the acting of Claudia Karvan and Guy Pearce as they are essentially playing their opposite gender for most of their screen time. As mentioned on Urban Cinefile, the acting was not just that of the stereotypical gender roles but something more realistic.
Different viewers of this film may interpret the conflict in the story differently from one another. Most commonly the conflict would be seen as how are Tash and Brett going to return to their regular bodies? The first time I saw this film, when I was only thirteen, and this is how I saw it. Watching it four years later with a different view on life, I began to see the film quite differently. It is not just about whether or not Tash and Brett will get their own bodies back and live happily ever after together, but also about the willingness of being able to explore alternative sexualities. If Brett and Tash could not get along with each other, who would they sleep with?
This question is actually explored during the film, as explained more in depth in my previously mentioned essay. For a while, Brett and Tash cannot stand each other while they are in the others’ body and try to lead a normal life. This is where the complications arise, and questions about sexuality are raised.
The synopsis I found on the WebSPIRS database reads, "A romantic comedy about a couple that wake up one morning to find themselves in each other's bodies. The message of the film is quite simple - wouldn't it be great if men could understand women's lives from a woman's point of view, and women could understand men's lives from a man's point of view. Guy Pearce from Priscilla is featured."
I do not believe that reading two reviews is enough to give me an insight to the critical uptake, but I was unable to access three of the reviews I found. Both authors of the reviews I read seemed to consider Dating the Enemy to be a fairly average film and also commented on the believability of the characters after the body swap.
I would also like to comment on the fact that as there was a very small number of reviews, and the lack of a significant online presence, it is quite obvious that not very many people actually cared for the film at all.
And with the box office figures, discussed under the next heading more in depth, it could be said that it did quite poorly because of poor reviews and media representation.
Filmed and set in Sydney, Dating the Enemy pulled Guy Pearce away from his Melbourne home for the production. Unfortunately I could not find further information relation to the circumstances of the production.
As far as I can remember, and because I cannot find anything relating to advertisements around the time of the film's release, there was very little marketing at all to encourage Australian's to see Dating the Enemy at the cinema. If I had seen something, I would no doubt have been keen to see the film on the big screen, but the only marketing I can recall to encourage people to see the film did not occur until it was released on video. Video Ezy had gained the exclusive rights to lend the film to their customers and used that fact to advertise on television and in the stores themselves.
Compared with other Australian films, Dating the Enemy did not do very well at the box office. It made $2,506,922 throughout its entire run in Australian cinemas, almost half a million less than the amount The Dish (Sitch, 2000) made in its opening weekend in Australia. Dating the Enemy was up against Now and Then (Glatter, 1995), Matilda (DeVito, 1996), amongst other films that may not have been as interesting to those who would enjoy Dating the Enemy the weekend it opened.
Megan Simpson Huberman, the writer and director of the film, has not worked on any films subsequent to Dating the Enemy, but did direct the film Alex (1993) prior to Dating the Enemy. After using a few search engines, I was able to find very little information about Simpson Huberman's subsequent work given that she has not been working on films. She did release of a novelisation of Dating the Enemy in 1996 and she is currently a professional associate at the Australian Film, Television and Radio School (AFTRS, 2002).
Cinematographer Steve Arnold on the other hand, has worked on a number of film prior and subsequent to the release of Dating the Enemy. It seems that Arnold is generally chosen to cinematograph comedy films like Mr Accident (Serious, 2000), La Spagnolia (Jacobs, 2001) and All Men Are Liars (Lee, 1995), to name but a few. All Men Are Liars is similar to Dating the Enemy also as the main plot line has a male pretending to be female.
The two main actors in this film, Claudia Karvan and Guy Pearce, are two of Australia's finest. Since this film, Karvan has gone on to star in such other films as Paperback Hero (Bowman, 1998), Strange Planet (Croghan, 1999) and Risk (White, 2000), not to mention having one of the leading roles in channel ten's award winning drama The Secret Life of Us (Hodgman, 2001). Pearce, on the other hand, moved on to creating films in Hollywood, including LA Confidential (Hanson, 1997), Memento (Nolan, 2000), the remake of Time Machine (Wells, 2002) and The Count of Monte Cristo (Reynolds, 2002). As for films they were in prior to the release of Dating the Enemy, Pearce was one of the drag queens in Priscilla: Queen of the Desert (Elliott, 1994) and Karvan had been in a number of films, but most notably The Heartbreak Kid (Jenkins, 1993). With actors from films with the acclaim those two films received, there probably should have been a wider release than was actually achieved.
An interesting thing to note is that the producer of Dating the Enemy, Sue Milliken, is on the ScreenWest Board that supports films produced and made in Western Australia.
Prior to the release of Dating the Enemy, Milliken produced Sirens (Duigan, 1994), a film that also explores alternative sexualities, though it is more obvious in the attempt. And the most recent film project she worked on was the television miniseries My Brother Jack (Cameron, 2001) that even co-stars Matt Day and Claudia Karvan.
This film is not a good example of what Australian filmmakers can achieve given the minimal release and subsequently not reaching a wide enough audience. I know I have enjoyed and appreciated this film over the past five years but I certainly would not recommend it as an example of Australian film if someone wanted to get a good handle on deciding whether or not to watch more Australian films. Judging by the rating of 6.6 on IMDb.com and comments I have heard, this is a film for audiences with a select taste and therefore should not be used to judge the value of other Australian films.
When comparing the box office figures of this with Priscilla's $16,447,288 (Australian box office), despite having one of the same stars, we can see that Australian films can achieve so much more than what this film did.
Since I enjoyed the film, and actually consider it to be in my top ten favourite films of all time, I am probably not the best person to judge the quality of this film compared with others without taking into consideration the views of other people. It does not seem any more successful now than when it was first released, whereas some films with similar unique Australian humour like The Castle (Sitch, 1997) seem to grow in popularity. Without The Castle, Michael Caton would not have earned his role in The Animal (Greenfield, 2001)
Dating the Enemy falls into the category of Australian films that do explore the available sexuality options. I have personally found this issue explored in some films that may not ordinarily be seen in such a fashion. Films such as Picnic at Hanging Rock (Weir, 1975) and Proof (Moorhouse, 1991) but have also found sources that agree with my view.
With such an acclaimed cast, it is a bit of a wonder why this film is not seen as valuable as films like Priscilla: Queen of the Desert and Muriel's Wedding (Hogan, 1994). Instead it sits on the shelf with Australian films that only seem to be cherished by a select amount of people like Mr Accident and Yahoo Serious' other films.
Given the synopsis I quoted in the second paragraph, Dating the Enemy is more of a women's comedy and is probably quite disinteresting from a male's perspective. It was written, directed and produced by females, much like The Monkey's Mask (Lang, 2000) was, and by the very nature of that film, it also happens to be one of the Australian films that explores alternative sexualities. It's also a very female film.
I have to reference some of my previous work as it intertwines with this review.
AFTRS, "Scriptwriting Department." Accessed May 2002
Corless, Dominica. “Dating the Enemy: style of sexual desires.” (2001)
Corless, Dominica. “Female Sexuality in Australian Films.” (2002)
Steve Arnold, http://us.imdb.com/Name?Arnold,+Steve+(I)
Dating the Enemy, http://us.imdb.com/Title?0116036
Claudia Karvan, http://us.imdb.com/Name?Karvan,+Claudia
Sue Milliken, http://us.imdb.com/Name?Milliken,+Sue
Guy Pearce, http://us.imdb.com/Name?Pearce,+Guy
Megan Simpson Huberman, http://us.imdb.com/Name?Simpson+Huberman,+Megan
The Dish box office and business, http://us.imdb.com/Business?0205873
Release in 1996 Australia, http://us.imdb.com/ReleasedInYear?year=1996&country=Australia
ScreenWest, "About Us." Accessed May 2002
Urban, Andrew L. “Making of: Dating the Enemy.” (1996)
WebSpiers Database, "DATING THE ENEMY." Films, Television & Multimedia Nov 2000.
WebSpiers Database, "ADVENTURES OF PRISCILLA, QUEEN OF THE DESERT, THE." Films, Television & Multimedia Nov 2000.
All Men Are Liars dir. Gerard Lee, 1995
The Animal dir. Luke Greenfield, 2001
The Castle dir. Rob Sitch, 1997
The Count of Monte Cristo dir. Kevin Reynolds, 2002
Dating the Enemy dir. Megan Simpson Huberman, 1996
The Dish dir. Rob Sitch, 2000
The Heartbreak Kid dir. Michael Jenkins, 1993
LA Confidential dir. Curtis Hanson, 1997
Memento dir. Christopher Nolan, 2000
La Spagnolia dir. Steve Jacobs, 2001
Matilda dir. Danny DeVito, 1996
The Monkey's Mask dir. Samantha Lang, 2000
Mr Accident, Yahoo Serious, 2000
Muriel's Wedding, dir. P.J. Hogan, 1994
My Brother Jack, mini series dir. Ken Cameron, 2001
Now and Then dir. Lesli Linka Glatter, 1995
Paperback Hero dir. Antony J. Bowman, 1998
Picnic at Hanging Rock dir. Peter Weir, 1975
Priscilla: Queen of the Desert dir. Stephan Elliott, 1994
Proof dir. Jocelyn Moorhouse, 1991
Risk dir. Alan White, 2000
The Secret Life of Us, TV series dir. Roger Hodgman, 2001
Sirens dir. John Duigan, 1994
Strange Planet dir. Emma-Kate Croghan, 1999
Time Machine dir. Simon Wells, 2002