Whether the source, a wildly successful 1990 Australian stage production, is to blame, or something was lost in Rachel Perkins's adaptation of it, Bran Nue Dae isn't just hurting in the spelling department — it's also lacking the feel-good story that musicals rely on to support their ethos in the absurdist environment of spontaneous song and dance.
Willie is an Aboriginal teen who's been banished from home by his God-fearing mother (Ningali Lawford) and a hard-assed priest (Geoffrey Rush). Unfortunately, the first-time actor playing him, Rocky McKenzie, doesn't have the chops to pull off an affectionate nerd. He comes across as aloof, so few will care when he gets beaten up by the heartthrob cowboy or is stuck in a van with hippies and a hobo.
The music does range from gospel to filmi to country — but there isn't a hook anywhere. And if you're going to recruit Rush to do a shoulder shimmy in a cassock, at least make it memorable.