Friends and Strangers
At one point in writer-director James Vaughan’s Friends and Strangers, a friend asks Ray (Fergus Wilson) what he’s been up to since the two last met. Ray replies that he has merely been “pottering around”, which would have been a far more appropriate title. Ray potters around instinctively for 82 minutes, and then the end credits mercifully roll.
It’s actually a little challenging to relate the plot. Ray goes on a camping trip, has some car trouble, attends an awkward job interview of sorts, and that’s about it. It would appear that Vaughan is attempting to create an example of Australian meandering mumblecore, or even something from the Mike Leigh school of naturalism. Kudos for attempting something different. The film looks rather pleasing (courtesy of being primarily shot around Sydney Harbour’s expansive shoreline), is technically proficient, and the narrative – as slight and impenetrable as it is – is reasonably cohesive. It’s just not all that interesting.
There’s something rather baffling about the finished product. Vaughan bookends his “action” with unnecessarily protracted establishing shots, and milks his scenes until they’re barren. Unremarkable exchanges between characters that should have been covered by a couple of sentences of dialogue are drawn out across multiple pages of the script. These unrealistic conversations then circle back to discuss the same trivial matters even further. It’s as though, during scripting and editing, the director realised that he was on track to make a short film of minimal length, and decided on an approach that would pad Friends and Strangers until it reached the minimum number of minutes to be an actual feature.
The overall effect of the production is not unlike overhearing a conversation between strangers. After eavesdropping for a moment, the banality of it all would then make the listener tune out, perhaps while being grateful that they don’t have to be friends with these particular strangers.
Friends and Strangers is released digitally on demand on 10th November 2021.
Watch the trailer for Friends and Strangers here: