Centre Place (2009) – By Cary Conley

Lizzie is a young lady living in limbo. By day she works an unpleasant job selling unpleasant dresses and being hassled by an unpleasant boss. By night she paints, although she has never actually sold a painting. Day after day, her artwork hangs in a coffee shop in Centre Place, a neighborhood shopping district in Melbourne, Australia. And day after day, Lizzie shambles into her job much like a zombie, biding her time until she can leave with her longtime boyfriend to Paris, where he is being transferred by his company. But then life throws Lizzie a curveball: her boyfriend cancels his transfer and breaks up with her, causing Lizzie to hit rock bottom. Even worse, her estranged father suddenly reappears as does an old high school boyfriend. Lizzie’s brother tries to help her get over her breakup by bringing over some Chinese food, but starts a fire in the kitchen, destroying Lizzie’s apartment. Now she is homeless, alone, and being pursued by a father she isn’t interested in as well as an old flame she doesn’t want to see. What else can go wrong?

As the crises mount, Lizzie is forced to examine her life and to admit that she is a bit self-centered. Once her old beau points this out, Lizzie begins to make some changes, letting her guard down, healing old wounds, and showing more concern for others. When her boss breaks a leg and ends up in the hospital, Lizzie is forced to run the dress shop, which to her dismay she finds to be deeply in the red. Relying on her innate artistic and fashion sense, she quickly makes some changes in the shop’s selections and saves the store. She also begins to heal the rift between herself and her father and even allows her old flame to be rekindled. In return, she is rewarded with success, friendship and acceptance. Centre Place is an appropriate title for this film, not just because it’s the name of the neighborhood in which Lizzie lives, but because the film is about a young lady whose life has shifted to more than a little left of center and how she redeems herself, establishing some personal balance, in effect finding her "center".

The story doesn’t really break any new ground in the romantic comedy genre, but it does strike a perfect blend of sweet and smart. There are also some quietly funny sequences that are well-timed. The acting is superb across the board, with particularly solid performances by Sullivan Stapleton as James, Lizzie’s long-ago love interest that resurfaces and Alison Whyte, Lizzie’s stuffy boss. Stapleton is wonderful as the quietly mysterious love interest that coincidentally pops up just as Lizzie’s life is spiraling out of control and Whyte conveys a perfect balance between her brusque exterior and her sad and lonely personal life. But the true epiphany here is Julia Markovski as Lizzie. Markovski shows a tremendous range of acting from sad and tearful moments to playfully coy and outright anger. She alternates between bopping around in her colorful and quirky outfits and shuffling around in gorgeous disarray as she secretly sleeps in the dress store, borrowing her boss’ merchandise and trying to figure out her place in life along the way. She is an absolute delight: sexy, witty, and pert.

Technically the movie is brilliant as well. Director Ben Shackleford, who has primarily directed Australian television, does a fine job with the film. The cinematography is gorgeous and the production design is wonderful, with chic, high-end shops mixed in with quaint little "mom and pop" places like the soup shop James opens near Lizzie’s work. But one of the true high points is the musical score which features many beautiful original songs that blend seamlessly with the film. While I’m typically not a fan of movie soundtracks, I could listen to the numbers in Centre Place over and over again.

I know it’s early in the year, but it’s safe to say that Centre Place is one of the best releases of 2012. Gentle, touching, and funny, Centre Place never fails to entertain. Do yourself a favor and pick this DVD up, which incidentally is being released on Valentine’s Day. For more information about the film, go to www.centreplacemovie.com.