Like the helium-filled balloons from which its central character finds himself suspended, Danny Deckchair is a meandering, forgettable trifle, a lighter-than-air concoction that sells its quirkiness too hard to be anything more.
Basing his movie on the real-life exploits of a quirky Australian who made himself into an airship by tying dozens of helium-filled balloons to his lawn chair, writer-director Jeff Balsmeyer delivers one of those films where the lives of a group of mundane, ordinary folk are forever changed - for the better - by the arrival of an outsider with a decidedly off-center world view.
Danny Morgan (Rhys Ifans) is a bit of a loser, a construction worker (he's a cement mixer) who knows this isn't what he wants to do with his life but can't define his discontent beyond that. And so he muddles through.
Making things bearable is his girlfriend, Trudy (Justine Clarke); at least he's got one, so maybe his life isn't as bad as he fears. But Trudy wants out, and when she starts making time with one of the local TV newscasters, she starts angling for a way out of the relationship.
Poor Danny, he never sees it coming. Well, actually, he does. But what's a poor guy to do?
Why, some desperate, outlandish act sure to grab Trudy's attention, of course. Like tying a bunch of his buddy the car salesman's balloons to his chair and seeing what happens.
What happens is a national media circus, as the Australian public can't get enough of this guy and his stunt - especially since no one knows where he landed. Thus is a nationwide search enjoined, and thus does Trudy begin to regret her dismissal of this good-hearted character, especially since her role as tragic girlfriend puts the spotlight on her.
For Danny, however, things have turned just peachy. After floating for a few hundred kilometers, he's crash-landed in this little Aussie burg, in the back yard of local traffic cop Glenda (Miranda Otto). She, having little time for TV apparently, has no idea who he is, but takes him in anyway, introducing him around town as her old college professor. The naturally curious townspeople are all glad to meet him (except for the co-worker who has a crush on Glenda) and embrace him wholeheartedly. Thus does Danny begin working his way into their hearts, and they into his.
Ifans, best known to movie audiences as Hugh Grant's roomie in Notting Hill, presents Danny as pretty much a blank slate, an aimless dim bulb without an evil thought in his mind, but not much is else there either (think Peter Sellers' Chauncey Gardiner in Being There, but without the satiric genius of Jerzy Kosinski's writing). It's mildly enjoyable watching him blossom into a new and better man once the deckchair lands in his new home, but there's also a nagging feeling that the transformation is a little too dramatic, more than a bit forced.
There's also the unavoidable question of just where this little out-of-the-way village is. With the search for Danny Deckchair having turned into a national obsession, complete with round-the-clock media coverage, it's hard to believe no one in town has seen a picture of the guy. And yet Danny remains anonymous in his new home, making friends and influencing people who think he's a member of the intelligentsia come for a visit.
All of which makes the story's resolution hard to swallow. Predictable, but hard to swallow.
It is nice to see Otto, so alluring as Eowyn in The Lord of the Rings, let her hair down a bit as lovelorn Glenda; her transformation is far more believable than anything Danny undergoes. Maybe if Danny Deckchair had been titled Glenda Meter Maid instead, there would have been a real movie here, rather than just a diversion.
Starring Rhys Ifans, Miranda Otto
Written and directed by Jeff Balsmeyer
Rated PG-13 (sex-related situations)
Released by Lions Gate Films
Time 90 minutes
Sun Score * *