June Again (M, 99 minutes)
Unlike other recent films that feature the inexorable progress of dementia, June Again has a disruptive proposition. What if the patient was suddenly restored for a while, in full possession of their mind and animal spirits? What if they didn't like what had been happening in the world in their absence, and decided to intervene?
Meet June, mother of two, grandmother of three, and formerly the owner of a successful wallpaper business. She has dementia as the result of a stroke, and has lived in a rest home for the last five years. Suddenly, she's okay again.
It's an appealing idea. To run with it, writer-director, JJ Winlove, has a fine ensemble cast led by the redoubtable Noni Hazlehurst as June, the family matriarch who once ran her family home like the family business.
Hazlehurst, who recently did a turn in Ladies in Black, is in her late 60s now, but her career is still going strong.
In the film's opening stages, June is staring blankly out the nursing home window. Or is she actually observing the bottom of the handyman fixing something while he kneels on the floor?
Who would know? Everything is jangling in her brain at once, in the cleverly constructed opening sequences involving therapists, doctors, rellies and a chaotic jumble of memories.
Then all of a sudden June experiences a recovery. She can recognise all the members of her family and has full recall of other salient information. The fact that she can complete the crossword and remember short lists of words show she has respite from her condition, temporarily at least.
She makes good her escape and hails a taxi to take her home. June's segue back into the world shows all sorts of inventiveness and she rediscovers her old self in no time. She would have been quite a girl.
All sorts of surprises await her, however, some of them less than pleasant, because her family hasn't been able to impart the changes in their lives during their visits. Her son Devon (Stephen Curry) did not complete a degree in architecture, and he got divorced. The precious family business needed to source poor-quality substitute materials.
Her grandson Piers (Otis Dhanji) had an accident and still has a limp. The mirror that he holds to his grandma, the YouTube video he made of her in the home as a school project, will be a particularly unpleasant surprise.
Junie is closest to her lovely daughter, Ginny (Claudia Karvan), who is married to a venture capitalist. Their two young sons are forever glued to their iPads, and Ginny is not as assertive as her mother might have hoped.
Karvan and Hazlehurst work so well together, as acerbic, demanding mother and put-upon daughter, but the relationship with Devon tests June even further. She had such high aspirations for both her children, and has difficulty coming to terms with the outcomes. Her dementia may have spared her life's little disappointments, but has not helped her reach much understanding in her relationship with her adult children.
Their father hasn't been around for reasons that are not disclosed, until the identity of the young man June reminisces about in her dreamy subjective reveries is revealed. It was a mistake to make him a flesh-and-blood character in the film's closing scenes, however - a sentimental strand to the movie's resolution that the narrative didn't need.
Hazlehurst is a joy to watch as a woman restored with a new lease of life. The veteran actor of the Australian screen revels in the kind of strong, vibrant woman her character was before the stroke. Especially amusing is June's feisty encounter, and parting payback, with the new boss at her business. She doesn't suffer self-important fools gladly.
JJ Winlove's insights into the dynamics of a typical family carry heft. It's a skill to portray family struggles in ways that seem fresh, breezy and non-judgemental.
Winlove, who hails from New Zealand, has made a number of shorts. This, his first feature film, is a promising start in the long form. Sensitive, funny and insightful, it's terrific.