In Standing Up for Sunny,
RJ Mitte stars as Travis, a socially isolated, perennially grumpy, guy living
with cerebral palsy. He has a major gripe with the world: the fact that there
are other people in it. Travis lives by himself, but when vision impaired Gordo
(Italia Hunt), an unexpected new roommate appears, he’s forced to engage with
the world around him. Reluctantly, Travis is dragged to a pub by Gordo, where
they see Sunny (Philippa Northeast) doing stand-up routine. Midway through the
act, a heckler shouts some routine offensive sexist heckler remarks, throwing
Sunny off. With a beer or two under his belt, Travis voices his anger at the
heckler for interrupting Sunny, and in turn, the crowd finds his retorts
hilarious. After the gig, Sunny’s boyfriend, radio DJ Mikey (Sam Reid), enlists
Travis to help teach Sunny how to stand up for herself. Seeing this as an
opportunity to be able to earn some extra money and boot Gordo out of the
shared apartment, Travis reluctantly agrees.
While Steve Vidler’s first film since Blackrock may seem plot heavy given that synopsis, it’s far from
the case, with Standing Up for Sunny
being one of the most joyous and hilarious Australian films in recent times. RJ
Mitte and Philippa Northeast are naturals, both displaying effortless comedic
timing, alongside a rare level of chemistry, making this dual lead a real treat
to watch. If the only encounter you’ve had with RJ Mitte has been his exemplary
work on Breaking Bad, then you’d do
yourself a great service by seeking out the downright hilarious Standing Up for Sunny.
And for Philippa Northeast, this is one heck of a feature
film debut. Northeast has an immediate natural talent for capturing the eye of
the camera, displaying a clear comfort for being on screen, all of which makes
Sunny an engaging, endearing, and entertaining character to spend time with. Keep
an eye on Philippa, as she’s definitely going to be a name you’ll be seeing
more of in the future.
As Sunny and Travis bond, they find commonality with their own
difficulties in life. For some, the immediacy of Sunny being open to Travis
about her bulimia may feel a bit too sudden, but given the level of openness that
Travis has when it comes to living with a disability, it’s understandable that
Sunny would find comfort in that and allow herself to be open with a relative
stranger. Again, it’s the commitment that both RJ Mitte and Philippa Northeast
have to their roles that this emerging relationship feels effortless and
With a wealth of rom-com tropes on board, such as the
will-they-won’t-they tightrope and the shitty partner, it’s wonderful to see
two lead actors give performances where you actually want their characters to
get together. It takes a great director and writer to be able to make the
familiar feel new, and with Steve Vidler’s finely tuned script and superb
direction, these well-worn narrative beats carry a freshness and vibrancy to
While Standing Up for Sunny is centred by two truly brilliant performances, this is a film that’s jam packed with exceptional comedic performances across the board. Newcomer Italia Hunt is a pure treat as wingman Gordo. Armed with a ukele, Hunt’s Gordo brings a warmth and vibrancy that balances out against Travis’ grumpiness. Sam Reid’s Mikey is the ‘villain’ of the piece, but he’s not an out and out asshole. The relatability of Mikey as a genuine romantic possibility makes the inevitable romance between Travis and Sunny all the more grounded and believable. So often these douchebag boyfriends are outwardly dickish from the get go, but Mikey is a believable ‘nice guy’, and Reid plays him with a level of empathy that shows why Sunny would have fallen for him in the first place.
I watched Standing Up for Sunny in a packed audience at Cinefest Oz, and the reception was rapturous, with every comedic beat hitting exactly as intended. Jokes landed perfectly, and the laughter was genuine. I found myself laughing so hard that I missed a joke or two. It’s a shame then that Standing Up for Sunny is only getting a limited release theatrically before heading to dvd and video on demand platforms in the new year, sidestepping a theatrical release completely, because this is a film that thrives with an audience. I’m certain it’ll be just as enjoyable and entertaining at home, but this kind of comedy deserves to be experienced in a packed theatre.
There is so much to love about this film, with pitch perfect
performances from RJ Mitte (please give him more comedic material, and please
make him the romantic lead in more films) and Philppa Northeast, and a
genuinely hilarious script, that I cannot recommend Standing Up for Sunny highly enough. It’s so rare to see a film
that shines this brightly, and it’s so rare to see one that gives people with
disabilities the chance to be funny. I loved this film, and I’m certain that
you will love this film too.
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