Praise

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Praise

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Praise

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A bleak and mordantly funny account of dependency and addiction, Australian director John Curran's Praise chronicles a love affair between two people who are fundamentally incompatible, yet incapable of abandoning ship. Passive nearly to the point of atrophy—like The Big Lebowski's The Dude without the energy for "coitus"—Peter Fenton works in a barely trafficked convenience store, making just enough money to pay rent in a squalid boarding house. In contrast, Sacha Horler is an aggressive, insatiable vortex of need, so hungry for sex that she demands it at every opportunity and browbeats Fenton when he doesn't comply. No man could feasibly satisfy her, but Fenton doesn't come close, except for the single occasion when a shot of heroin knocks him out of his stupor. The combination of his laziness and her neediness—with a hint of genuine compassion adding a slight adhesive—keeps their affair careening forward, even though they tacitly understand that it's doomed to self-destruct. Adapted from his book of the same title, Andrew McGahan's script is almost mercilessly acute in its characterization, exposing the raw nerves that simultaneously charge and fray this relationship; for example, Horler has a severe skin condition, and is often so raw that she bleeds at a touch. For all its downbeat touches, Praise never succumbs to full-blown misery, in part because of welcome jolts of humor but mostly because the performances breathe with such expansive humanity. Horler, in particular, holds nothing back in portraying a woman whose appetite consumes everything around her, yet who's eminently worthy of the attention she craves. Curran's debut feature finds a gentle, melancholy tone despite the material, aided immeasurably by a Dirty Three score scraping at the surface with sad, corrosive violin cuts. Explicit and emotionally frank, Praise charts an affair that's shocking in its extremes, yet without a gratuitous or exploitative moment—and with many that ring with discomforting, universal truths.

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