Walk the Talk (2000)

“There’s no such thing as failure. As far as I’m concerned there’s only results.”

walk the talkAt what point do dreams and ambitions become pathological? That’s the question in the bitterly dark Australian comedy Walk the Talk from writer/director Shirley Barrett.

 Joey Grasso (Salvatore Coco), the film’s main character and narrator attends inspirational meetings, and here while he sits fixated on the message of success–no-matter-the-obstacle, he absorbs the gung-ho messages peppered with illogicalities delivered by well-dressed, glib gurus. With at least one business failure involving the sale of cellulite gel, Joey doesn’t seem to be headed in any particular direction until a svelte blonde takes the seat next to him during a seminar.

The blonde is has-been singer Nikki Ray (Nikki Bennett), and Joey stalks her until he finds a way to slide into her life. First posing as a security analyst, he then offers to become her manager and revive her sagging career.

When Joey isn’t attending self-help seminars, he attends church meetings with his girlfriend, Bonita (Sacha Horler), and the film draws sharp parallels between religion and self-help groups. Both are led by charismatic people who offer hope and promises to a spellbound audience looking for ways to improve their lives. The ubiquitous qualities of religion seep into the background of many scenes in the film through churches with their billboard messages that promise of rewards to come.

 Although Bonita is now a wheel-chair bound paraplegic following a car accident, she’s basically an optimistic person, and she looks forward to marrying Joey. Bonita found Joey and religion in the hospital, and she’s a bit shaky with both the concept of a god and a devoted boyfriend. The sleazy Pastor Bob (Robert Coleby), trots Bonita out as a source of inspiration for his devoted congregation, and she can hold an audience spell-bound with her clear, strong singing voice.

 Bonita is due to receive a settlement of over a million dollars from the insurance company, and although she’s troubled by vague thoughts that Joey is after her for her money, she’s usually able to dismisses the doubt when Joey, spewing out the empty platitudes from his self-help seminars, engages her in dreams about their future wedding.

But all these dreams require money, and so soon Joey is using Bonita’s money to further Nikki’s career. Joey throws himself into the role of ‘agent’ with gusto–renting a convertible BMW, providing Nikki’s expensive wardrobe and even giving her an allowance.

This very, very dark comedy explores the idea of success and its counterbalance force–failure–through its quirky characters and the systems used to support and encourage those who strive for their goals. Joey is played as a naive character who uses the rubbish he gathers at self-help seminars and at church revival meetings to prop up and excuse his exploitation of Bonita. If you “Walk the Talk,” you get results. Joey uses both religion and self-help jargon to manipulate Bonita, and if one doesn’t work, he switches to the other belief system. The self-help message is that the only thing holding you back from success and the things you want in life is yourself. Can Joey really be so naive that he imagines he can launch Nikki’s career with sheer willpower, or is this evidence of some mental disconnect between his words and his actions? Indeed most of the characters seem to have some sort of mental disconnect in their lives–take the scene, for example where Nikki finds out how much Bonita’s settlement is and while she weighs the payment against the wheelchair, she callously and thoughtlessly tells Bonita that while being in a wheelchair is “no picnic,” she wouldn’t “mind it.”

Then there’s Nikki’s dad Marty Raye (Carter Edwards)–whose lounge act is for elderly Australians who can’t travel to Vegas to see Tom Jones. While Marty wiggles and swivels his bottom at the customers who are eating their cheap buffet meals and playing bingo, he imagines that he can lecture about success to his has-been daughter. And yet, in a way Marty is a success. Putting ambition and monetary considerations aside Marty, who is at least gainfully and regularly employed, is content and is a success at what he does in his tiny corner of the world.

The film follows Joey’s increasingly delusional path to failure, Nikki’s revenge scenes on the industry that spurned her, and Bonita’s path towards ‘submitting gracefully.’ This is definitely not a typical comedy but then again, Shirley Barrett isn’t a typical director. Some of the best scenes involve Nikki’s attempts to reenter the entertainment world, and while the industry constantly needs new faces, Joey keeps insisting that Nikki is not washed up but is a major new talent who’s yet to be discovered.

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