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Doing Time for Patsy Cline (1997)


Ralph (Matt Day) leaves his parents’ property in western Queensland with his guitar and a ticket to Nashville, Tennessee. His plans to become a country singer take a detour when a flamboyant couple in a large black car stop to pick him up. Boyd (Richard Roxburgh) and his girlfriend Patsy (Miranda Otto) are sophisticated world-travellers. Unfortunately, Boyd is also carrying a large amount of illegal drugs. He and Ralph are soon in a police cell, with three country-singing convicts (Tony Barry, Kiri Paramore and Laurence Coy). Patsy escapes into the night. In a parallel story, Ralph imagines a completely different reality, in which he and Patsy team up as a singing duo in Nashville, with Boyd as her conniving manager. The two stories run side by side throughout the film, as Boyd and Ralph prepare to face justice. When Patsy reappears with bad news, Ralph has to make some hard choices.

Curator’s notes

Doing Time for Patsy Cline is a comedy about the difficulty of finding one’s place in the world. Ralph believes at the start that he wants to be a country singer, but he’s not so sure by the end. Boyd is a man who’s done everything and can’t stick at anything, so he’s now taken up drug running. The theme occurs in variations in Chris Kennedy’s other comedies – This Won’t Hurt a Bit (1993) is about a dentist who’s also a swindler; A Man’s Gotta Do (2004) is about a fisherman who’s also a hit man. Some of this makes sense if you know that Kennedy is actually a dentist who makes films. Questions of duality come naturally to him.

Doing Time for Patsy Cline takes the idea further, in that it’s a dual narrative, with two parallel stories. The first is the reality of a kid in deep trouble in a Queensland jail, the second is that young man’s wakeful fantasy about what life might have been like if he’d actually made it to Nashville. In the first, he’s a failure; in the second, a success. In the first, Patsy is firmly with Boyd; in the second, she’s with Ralph and Boyd is the villain. It’s an ambitious structure that takes the film into a much more psychological reality, almost a dream-state. In the end, it’s also a film about a young man who’s forced to grow up very fast, once he leaves the safety of his family. If Ralph needs material to write songs about, he gets enough in the days following his meeting with these two beautiful, enigmatic and dangerous strangers to last him a lifetime.