We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.
It’s 1969, and Australian troops are waist-deep in the big muddy of America’s Vietnam blunder. In just a few years, the CIA will start using the Nugan Hand Bank to manipulate internal Australian politics, culminating with the 1975 “destabilization” of Prime Minister Gough Whitlam’s Labour Party government. According to The Dish director and co-writer Rob Sitch, however, Australia was just a happy-go-lucky little country when big, important NASA asked it to help capture images of Neil Armstrong’s epochal moonwalk. Located in the remote town of Parkes, the titular dish happened to be the biggest satellitereceiving station in the Southern Hemisphere. In Sitch’s fictionalization of the events, facility director Cliff Buxton (Sam Neill) is discreetly thrilled at this important mission, although his assistants have slightly different reactions: Working-class Mitch Mitchell (Kevin Harrington) bristles under the supervision of uptight NASA representative Al Burnett (Patrick Warburton), and painfully shy math wiz Glenn Latham (Tom Long) is distracted by his unrequited love for Janine Kellerman (Eliza Szonert), who brings the guys sandwiches. The dish’s security guard is the sort of broadly drawn bumbler common in Aussie comedies, and the mayor’s leftist teenage daughter provides the kind of anti-imperialist outlook that used to be common in more serious films from Oz. But they’re both just footnotes to the movie’s overall good vibe, which ultimately subverts both drama and comedy. The film is pleasant enough, and its depiction of regular-guy Aussies conquering technical glitches to play a role in the global drama reportedly charmed audiences Down Under. On the soundtrack, peace-drugs-and-revolution anthems such as “Something in the Air,” “Let’s Get Together,” and “Magic Carpet Ride” join the Broadway-hippie “Good Morning Starshine” in vague celebration of a period The Dish imagines was nothing more (or less) than pretty neat. —Mark Jenkins