Spoilt 20-something Melbourne mum and sometimes wife, Kim Craig, has always been a princess, at least in her own head.
For years now, self-obsessed Kim (Gina Riley), along with her high maintenance mother Kath Day-Knight (Jane Turner), have turned more than just heads with their questionable fashion and catch phrases. Beginning with a television skit in the early 90s, Kath and Kim became one of Australia’s highest-rating series, lasting for four series and a telemovie.
So the thought of a fairytale-based movie doesn’t seem so surprising. After all, when Kath began planning her wedding to Kel in series one, she even insisted on having a Cinderella pumpkin-style coach for the big day.
Where the pair’s first movie, Kath and Kimderella, differs from the television series is in its much larger scope. After a brief introduction of the characters and their lives, the film sends Kath, Kim and second-best friend, Sharon (Magda Szubanski) on holiday to the fictional village of Papilloma, Italy, after Kath wins what seems like the trip of a lifetime.
Papilloma – which is in fact a mixture of both the high society Amalfi Coast in Southern Italy and the Victorian countryside much closer to home – has its own king and castle, but life there is far from a fairytale. Under the rule of corrupt leader King Javier (Rob Sitch), life is hard for the people who are oppressed and deeply unhappy.
Not that the three ladies from Melbourne have any inkling of this reality. Kath quickly catches the wandering eye of King Javier, while his young son, Prince Juleo (Erin Mullally), falls head over heels for Kim after mistaking her for an overseas princess. And Sharon, well, she’s just Sharon, bumbling along, getting in the way and trying desperately to find true love.
From here, it is difficult to keep up with the over-the-top plot with more twists and turns than a rollercoaster. Some of the definite highlights are Kim singing a pop song for the prince; the surprise appearance of Kath and Kim’s snooty counterparts, Prue and Trude (also played by Turner and Riley), who are on holidays in Italy to collect stock for their homeware shop; and a special guest appearance by marriage counsellor Marion (played to perfection by the under-rated comedian Marg Downey), who helps husband Kel get on a plane and go join Kath.
Taking all of these characters out of suburbia where they belong is one of the film’s biggest risks and it doesn’t always pay off. At times it is impossible to suspend disbelief, like when Kim accepts the prince’s marriage proposal. Yet the film’s underlying political commentary, like when Kath converts the village to solar polar, liberates the people and changes the marriage laws, almost make the outlandish film a success.
For long-time fans, most of these criticisms are easy enough to gloss over or ignore for the film’s mere 86 minutes, but anyone who does not yet know Kath and Kim should look to series one to experience the magic that happened when they stayed in their own backyard.
Kath and Kimderella is showing in Australian cinemas now.
Mitchell Jordan is a Sydney-based writer with an interest in arts, culture and travel.