|Kitty Green, Oscar Redding
|Julia Garner, Jessica Henwick, Toby Wallace, Hugo Weaving, Ursula Yovich, Daniel Henshall
|November 23, 2023
There are films which highlight positive aspects of Australia, and there are films which showcase the negative. The Royal Hotel fits into the later category. This new film from director Kitty Green (The Assistant) begins with a great opening shot – two women partying hard in a crowded, dimly-lit room. It’s only when they leave that we realise they’re not in a nightclub but rather, a boat sailing past the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
Their expensive lifestyle is about to catch up with them. Hanna (Garner) and Liv (Henwick) are Canadian backpackers who have now run out of cash and need to find work. After visiting an employment agency, they find their only option is to accept a short-term gig as bartenders for a hotel in a remote mining town. Hanna isn’t a fan (she came to Australia to spend time at the beach) but they decide to embrace the experience and do it for few weeks to replenish their empty bank account.
It’s an eye-opening experience from the get-go. The hotel rooms are filthy, the showers barely function, and when they ask about the availability of internet wi-fi, they’re quickly laughed at. The paid work is no better. The hotel owner (Weaving) is a debt-laden drunk and the regular patrons, who have nothing else to do of an evening, are rowdy and aggressive. The bottom line – it’s not a safe working environment.
With the stage set, The Royal Hotel becomes a character study centered on power games and shifting dynamics. It’s as if everyone is trying to get a read on everyone else. The drunks start pushing boundaries and conversely, Hanna and Liv push back. What can they get away with? The best character in the film is Carol, the no-bullshit employee who works in the kitchen and has become somewhat of a hotel matriarch. She’s played by a scene-stealing Ursula Yovich who infuses the character with sass and bravado.
I expected a little more from the finale. The scenario is realistic but at the same time, it won’t blow you away with unexpected plot points. Green deserves praise though for creating a credible drama where the uncomfortable vibe felt by the two leads is imparted onto the audience. Like so many other countries around the world, Australia has issues when it comes to binge drinking and sexual harassment. As shown The Royal Hotel, the line is crossed too many times for us to accept.