There’s a healthy dose of schadenfreude at the heart of Dane McCusker’s raucous debut feature comedy The Big Dog. Willing audiences are invited to witness and revel in the downfall of cocksure Sydney stockbroker Richard Morgan (Julian Garner) as he experiences the worst day of his life. Richard is an atypical ego driven, power hunger Mr Harbourside Mansion-bloke. He’s also a failure of a husband and a father, on top of being a pretty shabby stockbroker too.
We first meet Richard sitting in his luxury car facetiming his findom mistress Paige (Asha Boswarva). Richard engages in a purely non-physical relationship with Paige where she holds the access to all of his bank accounts and financial details, only relinquishing access when he submits to some form of punishment or pays respect to the altar of ‘Princess Paige’. Julian Garner leans into the bleakly comedic nature of Richard’s doe-eyed dog manner, showcasing brilliantly just how ludicrously self-centred he is as a character.
Richard has no idea that he’s about to be swept into a whirlwind of chaos that promises to completely destroy his life as he knows it. Richard’s wife Kelly (Felicity Price) is attempting to organise a dinner for family and friends to celebrate their son Sam’s (Michael Monk) graduation day. The only problem is that nobody has been invited, and Richard is doing sweet FA to support Kelly to organise the day. Additionally, Richard’s attempts to buy a vintage car for Sam has been thwarted by his shoddy negotiating skills, and the small fact that his bank accounts have been completely wiped clean thanks to Paige.
Meanwhile, as this chaos unfurls, the neighbour’s dog barks incessantly, which leads Richard to try and silence the dog via various methods that fail to great comedic effect.
The strength within The Big Dog comes from the farcical foundation of McCusker’s script that he peppers with a level of raw drama that gives his excellent cast to build from. McCusker writes with a keen appreciation of how much of a circle-jerk the capitalistic stockbroker lifestyle can be, while at the same time acknowledging the manner that the families of these lecherous manchild dudebros can be turned into feeder fish, barely supported or appreciated as the loving or caring people that they are. Importantly, McCusker doesn’t pity or despise Richard, instead he holds a keen fascination for how a men like him slink through their days like hyenas.
Julian Garner plays it straight as the centre point of The Big Dog, letting Richard’s dereliction as a father and a husband be the place where most of the laughs come from. Sure, laughing at rich white blokes fucking up their lives may not be everyone’s bottle of brandy, but if you need a reason to vent some frustration at the messed-up state of the world right now, then watching Richard freefall into oblivion is as good a tipple as any.
Felicity Price excels as the supportive wife who is quickly getting to the end of her wick. Kelly’s tolerance to continue to be forced to play the role of doting housewife is rapdily distinguishing, with echoes of career potential from her younger days lingering like vivid dreams. As Richard ducks and swerves around their mammoth multistorey home attempting to finagle money out of a distant sibling who expected this downfall all along, Kelly becomes increasingly frustrated by his lack of transparency about their finances and about what exactly it is he does in this house.
That absent mindedness extends to Sam, a laze-about teen who has taken the worst lesson from his father’s existence: namely, that as a white man who comes from a family with some kind of wealth, you don’t have to do anything in the world as it’s almost guaranteed to be handed to you on a privilege platter. This causes Sam to be an anime loving social shut-in who has become agnostic to the concept of sunlight. Naturally, this comes with an unhealthy serving of misogyny and a raging fury for women. It doesn’t take long for Sam to start bleating about a ‘day of reckoning’ and for Richard to discover that his son has morphed into an incel. Sam is a rather pathetic figure, and as such Michael Monk impresses as he brings a complicated and difficult character to life.
Meanwhile, psychology student Paige uses her insider knowledge of Richard’s bank account to tear down the patriarchy and disrupt the imbalance of the economy ever so slightly, one wealthy cuck at a time. Asha Boswarva is effectively the co-lead here, bouncing off Julian Garner via facetime chats, while occasionally debriefing with Dilroop Khangura’s roomate character Shanti. As with all of the characters, Asha Boswarva balances the tonal tightrope brilliantly. Mark my words, here is an actor you’re going to see a lot more from in the future given how comfortably she commands the screen and balances comedy of the situation Paige is in with the level of care she gives Richard in the consensual findom relationship they’re in. It’s important to note, this kind of sexual relationship is never ridiculed or belittled, but Richard’s behaviour within it certainly is.
Yet, if there’s a point of frustration with The Big Dog, it sits with Paige as a character, who is occasionally written with a thumb on the scale. We probably didn’t need to see her wearing an ACAB shirt at home. Equally so, the climax of the film puts the onus on the wrong character to provide a solution in the aftermath of the day. These are minor quibbles though, especially when the bitterly comedic moments sing so well.
In the closing moments we see McCusker’s empathy for each of his characters come through. It’s clear that he believes that some people are capable of change, while others are forever trapped in the system they’ve been raised in. Depending on your level of cynicism, your acceptance for where each person ends up will determine the final taste that The Big Dog will leave in your mouth. Mine is set firmly to ‘side-eyeing all forms of privileged assholes,’ and I left the theatre with a filthy grin and a level of satisfaction. Take that however you will.
With that said, The Big Dog is a film that delights in presenting the extremes of its characters, with each put into some kind of pathetic or compromising situation that they might not be able to get out of. In some ways, McCusker gets a thrill from pushing his audience into those uncomfortable spaces where you’re not sure you should be laughing at this or not (hint: it’s always OK to laugh at self-interested stockbrokers lives collapsing quicker than the Bored Ape NFT market.) If that’s you, then The Big Dog is a deliriously dark comedy that will leave you breathless with laughter.
Director: Dane McCusker
Cast: Julian Garner, Asha Boswarva, Felicity Price, Michael Monk
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