WHAT IF IT WORKS? — Review by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

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Australian cinema has a curious relationship with romantic comedies. While international
hits like Strictly Ballroom (1992), Muriel's Wedding (1994), and Love and Other Catastrophes
(1996) found the subgenre hitting a commercial and critical sweet spot in the early-mid
1990s, it isn’t a national trend that has been repeated. Australian cinema has generally
since then leant towards darker or more serious subject matter. Filmmaker Romi Trower’s
What if It Works? may not have gained the same traction as its romcom predecessors, but
it’s certainly the little movie that could, winning awards for Best Australian Independent
Film at the 2017 Gold Coast Film Festival in Australia, Best Debut Feature Film at Canada’s
Female Eye Film Festival, and Cinequest’ New Visions Award in San Jose. Continue reading...

The plot itself treads dangerously close to exploitation, but Trower’s skills as director and
writer and her shrewd casting of the film convert it instead into something both loving and
sincere. The film follows tech-obsessed Adrian (Luke Ford) who has OCD, and his blossoming
yet at times difficult relationship with Grace (Anna Sampson), a graffiti artist with
Dissociative Identity Disorder. Rather than a plot milking any perceived deficiencies of its
two central protagonists – who face clear, unambiguous challenges because of their
respective mental health issues – Trower takes a more delicate step, focusing on their
determination, self-awareness and perseverance. She never presents them as tragic victims
but as just two people facing some challenges who (like the rest of it) are just trying to work
life out.

Set in Melbourne’s fashionable inner-city suburb of Fitzroy – now a hub of overpriced cafes
and corporate street art – there’s also something of What if It Works? that acts as a love
letter to the Fitzroy of yore. Perhaps fittingly, this is the same part of Melbourne where the
earlier romcom Love and Other Catastrophes was set, and it part acts (perhaps
unknowingly) as a subtle homage to its predecessor. What if It Works? is readily identifiable
through its production values alone as a distinctly independent, low-budget affair, but
despite its own challenges What if it Works? is marked by a real, raw energy. Trower is a
filmmaker unafraid to take risks, and while it doesn’t always work, that precious, indefinable
spark is almost always present.

This is a film – and filmmaker – unafraid to trust her instinct,
and with industry support and the further mentorship it demonstrates Trower has the
potential to be a dynamic, energetic and fearless Australian filmmaker.

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Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

Alexandra Heller-Nicholas is a multi award-winning film critic from Melbourne, Australia. She was an editor at Senses of Cinema from 2015 to 2018, and is a Rotten Tomatoes approved critic for ABC Radio in Australia, She has written for Film International, Diabolique Magazine, Vulture, Overland, The Big Issue and her own website, The Blue Lenses. She has written eight books on cult, horror and exploitation cinema and co-edited collections on Elaine May, Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani, Peter Strickland, and Alice in Wonderland in film. She frequently contributes commentaries, liner notes and video essays to home entertainment releases from companies such as Arrow Video, Kino Lorber, Eureka Entertainment, Second Sight and Severin Films. She is a Research Fellow at RMIT University and an Adjunct Professor at Deakin University, and a member of the advisory board of the Miskatonic Institute of Horror Studies (LA, NYC, London).