On this week's episode of popular game show Talkin' 'Bout Your Generation, host Shaun Micallef asked actor Josh Lawson how his latest film Any Questions for Ben? was performing.
"Tremendously well," said Lawson, who was dressed as Romeo as part of the episode's Shakespearean theme. "Yeah, no, it's doing very well."
"I should explain," said Micallef quickly to the viewers at home. "We did pre-record this at a point before the film had opened. Can we do the alternative just in case?"
"Of course," Lawson agreed.
"Josh, how is the film doing?"
"People hate it," said Lawson promptly. "And they seem to specifically hate me in it."
The reality seems to lie somewhere in between these two extremes for the latest comedy from Working Dog. Audiences aren't united in their hatred of Any Questions for Ben?, but then again, not many of them have seen it.
The film grossed just $917,516 across 235 screens in its first week of release. The romantic comedy's distributor Roadshow is understood to have spent close to $2 million on the P&A, but it seems audience are yet to be convinced, despite flocking to Working Dog's previous films, The Castle and The Dish.
"They've created something that nobody is quite going to expect," Lawson told IF in January, before the film's release. "I didn't think it looked or felt like an Australian film, it felt so big, so epic. I just didn't know where it was going – one moment I was laughing, the next minute I was really moved."
Any Questions for Ben? stars Lawson as the eponymous Ben, a successful, if materialistic twentysomething who realises his lifestyle may not be all it's cracked up to be after speaking at a careers night where not a single student asks him a question.
The filmmakers' interest in the subject matter developed after spending time socialising with young comedians during the filming of improvisation-based series Thank God You're Here.
"We had plenty of ways to portray the perfect modern urban life but we hadn't come up with a way to derail it," says director and co-writer Rob Sitch. "Then one of us mentioned school. The 10 year mark. We tossed around those nights when you're invited back and fully expect it to be triumphant and then someone said, 'Any questions for Ben…any at all…come on.' We hadn't even worked out what the night was but we were laughing."
The film features a solid cast, including Rachael Taylor (Red Dog, Transformers), Daniel Henshall (Snowtown) and popular comedian Felicity Ward.
Both of Working Dog’s previous films have been box office successes and instant classics. The Castle earned $10.3 million in cinemas and The Dish grossed almost $18 million.
“Any film by anyone comes with so much pressure and effort that it dwarfs any other thoughts you might have,” says Sitch. “I’m just happy to make a
film that doesn’t start with The.”
As a romantic comedy, the film is not only different from The Castle and The Dish, but also from many other local stories.
“In a weird way, it’s a lot harder to make a romantic comedy in Australia than it is, say, to make a raw crime drama,” says Lawson. “So often filmmakers love to make films about the down and out. I’m really proud of being in something that captures a side of Australia that is rarely captured
Although acknowledging that Any Questions for Ben? is unlike the production company’s other offerings, Lawson believes the three films have one important thing in common. “The characters are so funny, but only because we know them,” he says. “We all have someone like [The Castle’s] Dale Kerrigan in our lives. That’s what Working Dog is so good at: reminding you that you’ve got these people in your life and so
therefore, maybe, this movie is about you.”
Any Questions for Ben? is in cinemas now.