Based on Damain Callinan’s 2010 one man show (one that’s even more relevant almost a decade later) The Merger looks at Australia’s treatment of refuges. Wisely it chooses to take a rather light handed approach to this by couching it in a feel-good sports comedy, as a small town struggles to keep its football team. One time local football hero, now town pariah due to his environmental activism leading to the closing of the local timber mill, Troy Carrington (Damain Callinan) comes up with an innovative way to revive the local football club – a merger. Specifically one that takes advantage of the refugees relocated to Bodgy Creek. However not only are most of the new arrivals unfamiliar with the game, but the plan stirs up resentment in the community when the former Footy Club president (John Howard) actively protests the move.
A gentle Australian comedy with just a bit of political and social bite, The Merger might not be subtle in what it does, but at least it is upfront, oft times wearing its heart on its sleeve. There is something refreshing about that, which makes the charm of this feel good Australian comedy work for it. That charm manages to plaster over many of the film’s faults, making some of the plot, pacing, and structural issues in the third act less noticeable (or at least forgivable). The result is a film that is enjoyable, and takes a tilt at one of the major issues dividing Australia at the moment – our harsh treatment of refugees, and the underlying racism this has promoted in the community.
However instead of looking at this in an exclusively negative light, The Merger seeks to promote empathy and understanding by sharing the stories and motivations of all involved. It’s a noble goal, and one that is aided both by the strong dialogue and on point performances of the cast. Damian Callinan’s deadpan comedic delivery undercuts what could otherwise be a too saccharine and preachy plot. As such the jokes land, and his matter of fact observations about the nature of Australian society ring true. Young Rafferty Grierson helps with this, acting as the perfect foil, managing to provide much of the setup through his naive questioning, but also landing a number of pertinent observations himself.
By contrast, the interaction between Fayssal Bazzi (Downunder) and John Howard (SeaChange, All Saints) might be slightly overwrought, but both actors bring enough empathy to the roles to make audiences genuinely feel for them. As such they sell the political message that is core to this film, albeit more emotionally than convincingly.
A charming Australian comedy, The Merger shows the joys and tribulations of small town life, and the sense of community that pervades it.