If you’re in the mood for a feelgood Aussie flick that celebrates footy, country towns and mateship then The Merger will not disappoint. Filmed in around Wagga Wagga in the fictional town of Bodgy Creek, like its second-cousin-once-removed The Castle, it tells of underdogs fighting for a fair go.
In the heartland of Australia in 2018, the vulnerable ones aren’t the disenfranchised white men any more but the myriad of refugees trying to find some semblance of pride and safety in a foreign land. And it doesn’t get much more foreign than Bodgy Creek.
The footy team, the Roosters, are struggling; the clubrooms have asbestos and the only solution is to merge with another club. As Goober (Nick Cody) says, “It’s when one shit club joins with another shit club to make a slightly less shit club.” Club president Bull Barlow (John Howard) is for it but disgraced local (and former AFL player) Troy Carrington (Damian Callinan) has a plan to regenerate the club. He co-opts the many refugees who have settled in the town and, in doing so, confronts head on the xenophobia that permeates many a rural town. His greatest supporters are Bull’s widowed daughter-in-law Angie (Kate Mulvany) and her bright-eyed son Neil (Rafferty Grierson).
The Merger ticks many boxes for an enjoyable film; the characters are likeable, it celebrates and gently pokes fun at white Australian culture and it never takes itself too seriously. It’s the crackling script that lifts it above the ordinary, though, and writer Damien Callinan has a great understanding of how to interweave genuinely funny one-liners into his story without undermining the message or disrupting its flow.
There are many familiar faces and solid performances from the leads, particularly Grierson who carries the key character of Neil with maturity and manages to keep him grounded rather than annoyingly precocious. It is the footy team that provides the colour though, with local players with names like Snapper (Josh McConville), Goober, Carpet Burn (Angus McLaren) and Harpo (Ben Knight) contrasted with the new arrivals. Sayyid (Fayssal Bazzi) is a standout, introducing a heartfelt story of the war in Syria and its consequences.
For all its humour and depiction of the eccentricities of rural Australia, The Merger has a serious message to tell about mateship and inclusion. Although obvious, it is handled with such warmth and love that it never feels too didactic. The only things missing for me were any Indigenous characters or stories and the lacklustre representation of women. For all its emphasis on inclusion, it shows rural Australia as being a world of white men.
Have you seen this film? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.