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Review: ‘The Royal Hotel’ never finds its footing

‘The Royal Hotel’ follows a couple of American backpackers who take jobs tending bar in a rough Australian town

A scene from 'The Royal Hotel'
A scene from 'The Royal Hotel' courtesy of Elevation Pictures
A scene from 'The Royal Hotel' courtesy of Elevation Pictures

‘The Royal Hotel’ follows a couple of American backpackers who take jobs tending bar in a rough Australian town.

For many young people, taking time to see the world is a rite of passage: meeting new people, experiencing new things, learning about different cultures and enjoying what other countries have to offer. Not everyone can afford such a trip, so some opt to work odd jobs while they travel — there are agencies that will connect travellers with short-term work so they can save enough money for the next leg of their adventure. These jobs are not typically glamorous and are often labour-intensive, so there’s little place for the delicate. In The Royal Hotel, a couple of American women accept a job in a remote Australian bar.

Liv (Jessica Henwick) and Hanna (Julia Garner) are two young women travelling as far away from home as possible. They end up in Australia and accept jobs tending bar in a quarry town. Their first night is less than ideal and causes Hanna to have doubts about staying, but Liv assures her it will get better. The local men can’t resist the two attractive women, but some are a little too aggressive in their pursuit. Meanwhile, their boss and the bar’s owner (Hugo Weaving) is an alcoholic who has issues making sure his employees and suppliers are paid, in spite of his partner’s (Ursula Yovich) badgering.

The pair are clearly trying to avoid something at home, though it’s never clear what it is or how serious. They masquerade as Canadians because they think they’re better liked internationally than Americans and get away with their lie since no one ever questions them about their home country. Hanna is immediately painted as the responsible one, showing more caution around their new friends and nervously getting her back up when they receive unwanted attention. Liv likes to go with the flow, even when it’s not in her best interest, relying on her travel companion to keep her out of trouble.

This film is in sharp contrast to co-writer and director Kitty Green’s 2019 condemnation of sexism and harassment, The Assistant. In spite of the narrative possibilities, there’s nothing really compelling about this movie. When accepting the job, they’re warned of extra male attention since it’s a mining town and that is the main source of drama throughout the narrative. There’s the younger guy looking for a date, the wealthy guy who thinks he’s entitled to a date and the miner who’s called dibs on a date. Time is indeterminate, but most of their interactions occur at the bar and it’s all very mediocre, in spite of the attempts to insert conflict. This makes the ending feel incredibly over-the-top as the two young women walk away like a righteous Thelma and Louise, having passed judgement on the bar, its owner and its patrons.

Director: Kitty Green
Starring: Julia Garner, Jessica Henwick and Herbert Nordrum

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Sarah Gopaul is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for film news, a member of the Online Film Critics Society and a Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer-approved critic.

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