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Worth a Watch? – Dating the Enemy (1996)

If you’ve ever wanted to swap bodies with someone but don’t have a mystical theme park attraction or similar magical object then Aussie comedy Dating the Enemy has you covered. Great performances by Claudia Karvan and Guy Pearce almost pull the film out of the hole the tired and predictable plot drops it in.

The plot follows television show host Brett (Guy Pearce) and science journalist for a national newspaper Tash (Claudia Karvan). They meet each other one fateful night on a Valentine’s Day Trivial Pursuit game night and it’s love at first sight.

After that night where they first kiss, the film skips ahead a year and we’re plopped right in the middle of Tash and Brett’s troubled relationship. They’re complete opposites – one’s uptight and studious, the other’s laid back and self-confident. I’m not going to tell you which one is which but just remember this was made back in the nineties and think like the laziest screenwriter ever.

The two lovers get into the standard rom-com third act argument number 3,567 – Tash feels ignored and underappreciated before uttering the magic words “I wish you could be me, so you could see how I feel for once. I wish I could be you, so I could show you what an idiot you’ve become.”

That night after the argument, some special effect bubbles appear around Tash and Brett that looked good in the five seconds before the director figured out the effect was done rendering. Anyway, the bubbles appear and some stuff happens and for this reason *insert reason once I figure it out* Tash and Brett have swapped bodies with each other.

The standard Rom-Com scenes play out as reliably as the one-armed drummer playing the Dexys Midnight Runners greatest hits tour. Tash and Brett hate each other’s bodies at first, each trying every single way they can to get out of their predicaments.

The two lovers try and sabotage the other’s life in the beginning but eventually undertake personal growth and gain a new appreciation for their partner. They end up getting back together right at the end in a cheesy declaration of love before the credits roll.

The fact they get back together at the end made me a little disappointed because, in the real world, the two of them would be better off finding new partners more suited to them.

Like you can guess from the previous couple of paragraphs, the plot’s so predictable and formulaic that even the side characters get together literally from watching Tash and Brett make out from their respective apartment windows.

Much like in The Big Steal, Claudia Karvan is one of the bright spots of the film. At the start, Karvan impresses with her acting chops and the depth and range of emotions she brings to the table. However, the really impressive performance comes once Tash and Brett swap bodies.

Karvan sheds the timid, self-conscious librarian girl next door vibes of Tash and adopts Brett’s more dominating and assertive persona. The pure physicality Karvan incorporates into her performance makes it more believable and enjoyable to watch and kept me engaged.

Guy Pearce is another silver lining in this film, which is good because he’s who we spend most of the film watching go through the most well-worn character arc of film history. Like with Karvan, Pearce’s acting gets more enjoyable once he sheds the typical Rom-Com role and is given a little space to breathe and stretch out the mould.

However, unlike The Big Steal, Karvan and Pearce are left drifting along a sea of mediocrity without the supporting cast a film like this really needs. Don’t get me wrong, they’re not terrible but there’s nothing super memorable about their performances.

The movie branding itself as a sex comedy has you imagining all sorts of scandalous things that would have mothers clutching at their pearls. Before you start burning down shrines to capitalism, relax. It’s a lot less American Pie and more Love Actually than you think at first. It’s incredible considering this film came out well before both those films.

The most titillating moments we get is seeing Karvan dressed up in lingerie and other revealing outfits while Brett’s in Tash’s body and Pearce getting an erection at an erotic modern art museum.

The misbranding of the film applies perfectly to the comedy as well. The humour’s a real mixed bag. Some jokes make some really interesting comments on the differences between men and women (the scene about the differences between wallets and purses springs to mind). Unfortunately, these are in the minority with most of the jokes being bottom of the barrel dross. This bouncing back-and-forth of comedic quality leaves it all over the place and feeling muddled.

In terms of romantic attraction, Karvan and Pearce are quite believable in their roles as their attraction feels genuine throughout the film. Of course, we all know how the film is going to end and it feels disappointing. Throughout the film, it feels like Tash and Brett aren’t good for each other and would be better off with other people.

The director does a decent job with the shots and cinematography overall but there’s nothing extraordinary worth mentioning. Just like the films forgettable soundtrack, it doesn’t hang around once the film’s done but as they say, cinematography and soundtracks are like public toilet cleaners - you know they’re doing their job when you don’t notice them.

Overall, Karvan and Pearce really seem to be keeping this film afloat so it doesn’t sink into the depths of mediocrity. If you’re looking for some good Aussie Rom-Coms, I’d recommend The Big Steal and Paperback Hero before this film.

Have you seen this film? Let me know what you think in the comments down below.


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