Director: Kestra Nebula
Writer: Kestra Nebula
Cast: Dean Kirkright, Christine Husband, Lauren Gregory, Scott Knight
Running time: 1hr 29mins
As Tube Rats co-host Jimmy Rudiger often puts it, underperforming films are usually “less than the sum of their parts.” In the case of the lazy, derivative shorts appearing on the show, that is a potent insult indeed. It needn’t always be, though.
Kestra Nebula’s The Green Woman has a great deal to offer within its constituent parts. It is ably acted, well shot, and professionally edited. However, post-production issues clearly took a toll on the cohesion of the story, while a bare-bones script afforded the performers far too little protection.
The story follows Rommy (Dean Kirkright; who, like half of Australia, has appeared in Neighbours and Home and Away) – a struggling writer, locked into a spite-fuelled relationship with Mary (Lauren Gregory). The pair are very good, with Gregory in particular chewing the scenery as a compulsive nag, determined to bring her schlubby partner to heel. Particularly infuriating are the moments when she chastises the forlorn Rommy while obnoxiously chomping through dinner, mouth agape, mid-chew.
At the same time, Rommy – short for Romulus – is an earnest, bleary-eyed creative. Marooned in his house, adrift in a sea of doubts as life passes him by, he bats away repeated suggestions that he give up on his dream for a more stable life in admin. Kirkright wears a mask of perpetual frustration, his determination to make his way outside of the job visibly slipping from his grasp.
It is a pity, then, that two such performers are not given more opportunity to demonstrate their range, by Nebula’s script. The first-time filmmaker was clearly not short on ideas when she penned this sci-fi-relationship-dramedy feature film – but it might have been advised to tell a simpler story in this maiden voyage. Were this a more concentrated portrait of a relationship in turmoil, there might have been space to include some sorely needed humanising elements of the characters.
As it is, we see the very worst of both of them, constantly. Mary doesn’t have a kind word to say throughout any scenes the two share alone – instead doing her best to get under Rommy’s skin by describing how attractive she finds one of her co-workers. Meanwhile, Rommy’s childish attempts to inject humour into discussions in which it does not belong come across as passive aggressive deflections, which diminish any potential for the pair to engage with any kind of emotional honesty.
Why on Earth are these people together? What does either of them get out of this? They behave as if they hate each other – while the film does nothing to show us otherwise. In this case, we have nothing to help us latch on to either character – without any redeeming qualities, the pair are one-dimensional caricatures who we cannot properly connect with.
Rather than trying to expand this relationship, either showing us a happier ‘before’ time, or even injecting some semblance of fondness into the early stages of each sparring session, Nebula’s story decides to inject a third element: The Green Woman. Appearing head to toe in green paint, with a silvery Barbarella bodysuit, the titular character is relentlessly irritating.
It is not something I believe is Christine Husband’s fault, I should note. As with the other performers, she is doing her best with what she was given – or having to improv her way through blank-spaces without having a fully-rounded character profile to draw upon – but what she was given is much, much more difficult to watch. About half of her screen time as TGW seems to involve ‘mysterious’ giggling, while refusing to answer questions on her motives.
Why does she want Rommy to break into neighbours’ houses to steal their satellite dish? How does she keep getting into his house without using the door or window? Is she simply a product of his abuse-rattled subconscious? Wouldn’t you like to know, tee-hee-hee.
Exacerbating this, these encounters tend to meander on for far too long, with too little consequence – especially in the first half. Similarly, the angry encounters between Rommy and Mary seem to be trapped without progression. An argument seemingly comes to a head, before a new scene begins, and the players are back as they were before their latest battle.
There is a feeling when watching all this that the whole affair is being stretched out. That somehow, despite being determined to tackle so many genres, the film has run out of ideas. Perhaps, trapped in years of development hell, B-roll of test dialogue was included to substitute material that was either not filmed, or lost due to technical outages. That would also explain why in one scene in particular, the squeaking of Husband’s silver swimsuit all but drowns out her whispered dialogue. If there was no second take, or no potential for ADR as the actors had moved on, the editor would be left to do their best with whatever was left from the initial filming sessions.
To that end, the editing is commendable – it does a good job of structuring the story in a way that almost sews everything together. But without more to choose from, the characters and story do not shape up in the way they need to. For example, during his initial meeting with TGW, Rommy is told by the enigmatic extra-terrestrial, “It was you who said the universe is full of weird and wonderful things, beyond your imagination.” While this has the potential to paint Rommy as some kind of hopeless romantic, or day-dreaming creative, it would have been much better at doing that if we’d seen and heard him saying it himself, earlier, in defence of his line of work.
It is not the only missed opportunity to build Rommy a backstory we can relate to. At one point he describes the early days of his love of Mary – and it sounds like if we saw some of the sweetness described, we could buy into their dynamic a lot more easily. Meanwhile, he mentions his full name is Romulus, and he has a brother, Remus, who died when they were children… Those names are tailor-made for a story of guilt and regret that never manifests.
I should be fair to Nebula, however. At least some of the ambiguity and lose ends which are featured throughout the story end up working – explained in quite unexpectedly moving fashion, by the film’s finale. A revelation about Rommy and Mary’s past flips our perceptions of their story on their head. Though it still would have helped to have seen some tenderness between the couple, to some extent this helps us feel more satisfied with having seen the loop they were trapped in.
Unfortunately, the two-pronged nature of this ending means that whatever emotional clout was obtained by the twist is instantly jettisoned, in favour of injecting some last-minute, sci-fi titillation into the deal. It makes for a blunt, flippant ending, that will leave many viewers wondering about the missed opportunities this film neglected, in favour of telling a story that never truly feels connected to its emotional core.
The Green Woman is, ultimately, less than the sum of its parts. But it has a lot of parts – so there is actually still plenty here to admire. There are many, many things in this film which might not belong together, but could have been expanded upon to make an effective feature all on their own. The fact Kestra Nebula has not nailed those ideas first-time is not necessarily the end of the world, then. The fact that she is having those ideas at all means there is a huge amount of potential in there, just in need of more refined focus.