The dysfunctional family is not an untapped resource when it comes to screenwriting material. Case and point is one of the more recent financial gambles from Warner Independent, a film called Introducing the Dwights or alternately titled Clubland (don’t ask me why, maybe because the lead character has an act at a comedy club). Yet another in a series of eccentric offerings from Australia (i.e. Eagle vs. Shark and Candy), Introducing the Dwights explores Tim Dwight’s (Khan Chittenden) struggle to free himself from the clutches of his domineering mother Jean (Brenda Blethyn).
No stranger to playing the self-proclaimed martyr, Brenda Blethyn adds new depth to the archetypal self-absorbed drunk. Jean Dwight’s only objective in life is to become a famous comedienne; having two children greatly detracts from this long-standing dream. Tim’s younger brother Mark is an additional roadblock to Jean’s ambitions as he is mentally challenged and in need of constant supervision. At the same time, Jean relishes the control she possesses over both of her sons. It is not a malicious sort of enjoyment, though it may seem that way at times, but rather a fierce protectiveness of the lives she has created.
Tim is painfully aware of his mother’s delicate emotional balance, thus when he meets a girl named Jill (Emma Booth) while moving her furniture, Tim decides to keep his feelings for her a secret from his mother. Jill is clearly more experienced and mature than Tim, which is the most likely reason for Tim’s attraction to her. She is confident, but self-possessed, beautiful, but modest, nurturing, but caring enough to give Tim space when he needs it: In short, she is the exact opposite of his mother.
When Jill inquires as to why Tim has not introduced her to Jean, Tim warns that both of his parents are entertainers (his father John was a one-hit wonder in the seventies and met his mother at a party for up and coming talent).
Jill assures Tim she is up for the challenge of meeting this elusive grande dame. Tim invites her to a barbeque at his house, but the meeting gets off to a rocky start. Jean barely acknowledges Jill and instead pays more attention to her friend Kelly (Katie Wall). Jill is quick to notice Jean’s overt snub, but tries to give her the benefit of the doubt. When they discover that Mark has gone missing, Jean (contentedly drunk by this time) calls the police. Jill and Tim go to look outside and find that Mark has wandered into the neighbor’s yard to admire the dog. Jill is the one to bring Mark back to Jean, who only replies with derision and censure for her interference.
The closer Tim gets to Jill, the more Jean feels betrayed, responding with evident panic at the thought of losing another foothold into her son’s life. Matters are only made worse by Mark’s budding romance with a girl he goes to school with. Hearing him say “I love you” over the phone is enough to send Jean off the deep end.
When Tim returns home late one night from another bout of sexual exploration (Tim was a virgin when he met Jill), Jean confronts him about his recent neglect. He never gives her rides to her shows anymore or watches her rehearse new jokes or anecdotes. Jean, a master at the art of manipulation, induces Tim to feel guilt-ridden and apologetic. After expressing remorse for his behaviour, he promises to take Jean to her “career-making” audition in Sydney.
Unfortunately, Jean’s audition does not go quite as well as she had thought. The three men assigned to evaluate her performance are uninterested and rude as they barely watch Jean on the stage. This unnerves her and throws her usually unshakeable confidence. On the way out of the club, Tim asks if she got the job. Jean immediately channels her anger toward him, blaming him for not being more supportive and helping her out with Mark. If she had been able to rehearse more instead of looking after his brother and finding a way to pay the bills, she might have had a shot at passing the audition.
Tired of fighting for a dream that will not come true, Jean liquors up, threatens to go back to England, and kicks both of her sons out of the house. Tim and Mark flee to Jill’s apartment, Mark all the while insisting that they should go back to their mom. Tim refuses, saying that is exactly what she wants them to do. With some coercion from Jill, Tim agrees to take Mark back to the house. Jill offers to go with him, but Tim thinks her presence would only aggravate Jean further.
Once they arrive back at the house, they find a highly inebriated Jean packing her clothes into a suitcase. Desperate, Tim calls their father John to talk her down from the ledge, so to speak. Jean is none to thrilled with Tim’s attempt at mollifying her rage. She gets into a heated argument with John, accusing him of holding back her career by getting her pregnant. John counters below the belt, telling her that she never would have made it in the business anyway because her comedic style always made everyone uncomfortable.
The film’s culmination meanders into a somewhat over the top, exceedingly syrupy direction. Warner Independent might have had a hand in dictating the last five pages of the script being that everything is wrapped up in a nice little bow. Sure, an independent movie is allowed to have a happy ending every once in a while but this overt schmaltz is a complete violation of the indie code. The final scene reveals Jean has magically transformed into a tolerant and accepting matron, embracing her son’s sudden and whimsical marriage to Jill. Her character arc is more than a little disappointing as it was her profoundly damaged psychosis that made the film so interesting.