Review | ‘Acute Misfortune’ is an artist biopic with a difference

Acute Misfortune | Luna Leederville | ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ 

Acute Misfortune is a biopic with a difference. The subject is Australian artist Adam Cullen who won the top portraiture Archibald Prize for a portrait of David Wenham. Dying at the age of 46, the uncompromising film is based on the last four years of his life when he spent a considerable time with journalist Erik Jensen, who would publish Cullen’s biography after his death.

Jensen stayed for long periods of time with Cullen at his remote Wentworth Falls property in the Blue Mountains and the working relationship morphed into a wary friendship. Jensen filled notebooks with shorthand as he accompanied Cullen on hunting treks, long taxi rides to score heroin and to meet the family of this larger than life Chopper Reid type character.

Under Thomas M Wright’s debut direction, Daniel Henshall becomes the famous and ferocious artist and Toby Wallace is the young gay journalist who first meets him in 2008 at the age 19. The film is as much about the relationship between the two men as it is about the decline of the imposing and fearless artist. Cullen tests Jensen by pushing him to his limits and finds at the end of his life that Jensen is his only friend.

Drug and alcohol-induced honesty allowed Jensen to get to know his subject intimately and towards the end of their time together, Adam confessed that he preferred the company of men and that was the main reason he’d distanced himself from the rest of society. He quotes his grandfather as saying “If it’s got tits, wheels or fur, you’re fucked.”

Acute Misfortune is raw in its honesty. Jensen says in his book of the same name: “Suddenly, it is all there: the showers, the nudity, the elegiac emails, the lingering touches, the fantasies about taking hotel rooms together, the pretense of this book with which he has convinced me to stay at his house. I think back to something Adam said early in our interviews: “You’re the only man for me.” Sitting opposite him, I finally twig: Adam is in love with me.”

Writer/Director Thomas M Wright will be at Luna Cinema on Friday 10 May for a Q&A after the 6.30pm screening. Erik Jensen’s book will also be available at the book signing after the Q&A.

Lezly Herbert