Directed by Heath Davis
Starring Alan Dukes, Airlie Dodds, Susan Prior, Rhys Muldoon
Once a hot novelist with the world at his feet, Nicholas Cutler (Alan Dukes) now languishes teaching English in high school. When interest is shown in his latest work, Cutler has to prove himself a changed man from the young novelist whose poor behaviour made him untenable in the public eye. The thing is, he’s not. Between a workplace affair with a fellow teacher (Susan Prior), accidentally sleeping with his student teacher (Airlie Dodds), alcohol, drugs, and strip clubs… there are rather a lot of things that might derail the publishing of Cutler’s return novel. Not the least of them is the pressure filled environment of the school during Book Week.
Cutler is played with remarkable conviction by Dukes, bringing life to the character… almost an over-abundance of it. Cutler has soulful eyes, that don’t merely looked “lived in”, but have gone so far as to become “that run down property at the end of the cul-de-sac that’s turned into an impromptu meth lab”. He would be an easy character to despise; self interested, self important, self destructive, self loathing (you see the common theme here), but Dukes brings him across the line. Audiences can see his evident flaws, cringe at his behaviour, and find Cutler reprehensible, but we can still like him as a character and connect with his humanity.
Which is key to Book Week. That black humour is found in those self destructive tendencies that get in the way of the better angels of our nature, or even just enlightened self interest. It’s a universal experience, that vague recollection that when you were drunk at 3am it seemed like a good idea. Cutler lives in those moments, and part of his redemption arc is not merely the realisation of this (because let’s face it, it’s obvious) but the acceptance of the responsibility.
At times this can make the events on screen cringeworthy, but we are brought through by that stellar central performance (along with some great support by Dodds and Prior), and the incredible empathy displayed for this flawed character by writer and director Heath Davis (Broke). Book Week skillfully walks that line between the glorification of the selfish arsehole artist archetype, and showing how truly broken such a person is for trying to live up to that. All in the form of a solid piece of Australian comedy.