This Aussie documentary follows director Jonathan Duffy and his boyfriend Vincent Cornelisse as they leave the Melbourne suburbs and head to rural Queensland, so that Vincent can take up a job as a doctor there, helping to pay back the scholarship he got during his studies.
They’re both concerned about how they’ll be received, as the country parts of Australia aren’t well known for their love of the gays. Jonathan in particular is worried, as he’s more noticeably gay and isn’t sure what his role will be once he gets to Mundubbera, a town of about 1,000 people. The film chronicles their arrival, the reaction of the locals and how Vincent and Jonathan find a way to fit in and be accepted in their new home.
It’s a potentially worthwhile subject, but The Doctor’s Wife has a few problems. The main issue is Jonathan Duffy himself, who perhaps isn’t as interesting a documentary subject as he seems to think. The movie opens with him basically saying some people have called him brave and heroic, before he adds what sounds like false modesty, saying that he was just along for the ride. It’s a hint at the narcissism that rather infects the documentary, to the point where it sometimes feels more like an advert for Duffy than a documentary. It also means that quite often he seems unable to separate other people’s perspective on his and Vincent’s arrival, from his own rather drama-loving ideas about it.
I don’t want to be too mean about him, as his heart is absolutely in the right place, it’s just that perhaps he’s too close to things to be able to see the best way to tell this story. It often seems we’re being presented with the pressures many of us face – finding our place in a new town, worries about what others think of us, reassessing our identity within a relationship – but blown up as if they were something exceptional. For example, many of the worries the boyfriends express about going to Mundubbera are just what most people feel when they move house, but with a small added anxiety about not knowing how they’ll take to gay people. It may well be that Duffy had very good reasons to feel the way he did, but the film is so focussed on his perspective and offers so little objective context that it’s impossible to tell if it’s really 90-minutes of worrying over nothing or not.
But then, perhaps I was the wrong person for this film. I grew up in the ass-end of nowhere, and so the news that rural folks weren’t going to immediately run the guys out of town with a pitchfork didn’t come as a shock – nor did the fact that most people took the news they had gays in their midst with little more than mild surprise and a shrug. However perhaps if I were a born and bred big city boy the concerns addressed here might have seemed more real and worth making a movie about. While the film doesn’t really acknowledge it much, The Doctor’s Wife is as much about city people’s ideas about the country being wrong as it is about rural folks coming to terms with having gays in the village.
While Duffy was rather limited by the footage and access he had, it would have been nice if the story could have been broadened out, especially as Vincent’s tale often seems more interesting than Jonathan’s, but is only seen through the prism of Duffy’s thoughts and feelings (I get the feeling this only became a documentary after the fact, meaning the footage from the guys’ time in Mundubbera is rather limited and inevitably concentrates on Jonathan as he was making video diaries).
The ending is rather sweet and full of hope, but it’s difficult to escape the feeling that it’s been 90 minutes of not an awful lot happening, and as it doesn’t really examine what its saying, it’s tough to really feel satisfied. Right at the beginning of the documentary Duffy promises that the story isn’t boring, and sadly at times he’s wrong.
The special features include a director’s commentary, in case you want to hear more from Duffy, and he’s also on-hand for the lengthy ‘Shameless Self Promotion’ featurettes. These are a series of video diaries following Jonathan as he promotes the movie and himself, as he’s determined The Doctor’s Wife is only going to be the beginning for him. With these vids it’s tough to know how self-aware and tongue in cheek he’s being, as they’re in danger of making people wonder whether the whole documentary is more about Duffy trying to create him own legend as it is about its subject. Finally the disc has a few deleted scenes.
Overall Verdict: It may well be that city dwellers who can’t imagine ever going to live in the country – especially if they fear they’ll be subject to endless homophobia – will find a lot to enjoy here. Everyone else will find a tale with relatively little incident that tries too hard to make the relatively commonplace seem exceptional. If it could have examined its story a bit deeper and with a slightly broader viewpoint, it could have worked, but sadly it’s ultimately more an advert for Jonathan Duffy than a successful documentary.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac