Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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With Yahoo Serious, Odile Le Clezio.
Directed by Yahoo Serious.
(Warner Home Video, color, 90 min.)

By Robert Christgau and Carola Dibbell

Young Einstein is a lot more fun to think about than to watch. Only in Australia or some similar well-heeled backwater could an unknown art student write, direct, edit, and star in a wacko comedy that took place anywhere but in his own head. So for Serious to have reached production (and then gotten worldwide distribution) was a triumph of bootstrap capitalism. What's more, the movie's premise is pretty funny: Einstein is not only the son of a Tasmanian apple farmer but invents surfing and rock and roll while trying to sell Sydney on the secret of putting bubbles into beer--namely, E=MC˛.

All Serious had to do with his funny idea was make a funny movie out of it. But he didn't--at least not in terms a resident of the Northern Hemisphere can relate to. Down under, the premise alone is worth more, and the skimpy guffaw material is padded by Australian in-jokes that no one up over can follow. Thus, the second biggest Australian-made hit in the nation's box-office history stiffed Stateside. For us, it was Monthy Python without that mean edge--or a Saturday Night Live skit stretched out way too long.

Yes, there are mitigating factors. Serious is charming--one might almost say amusing--in the lead role. Odile Le Clezio is earnest and peppery as Einstein's grand amour Marie Curie. The crowd-scene extras take their work seriously. The cinematography is uncommonly rich for a one-man project, with period texture palpable throughout. And when the ladies of the night at Einstein's hotel tried to puzzle out why Newton's theory doesn't account for Galileo's law, we laughed out loud. Unfortunately, that was just about the only time.

Video Review, Jan. 1990