Having proved to be a filmmaker to watch with Love And Other Catastrophes, Aussie director Croghan stays in roughly the same gear for her follow-up, a kind of loosely-structured, Antipodean answer to Friends that is about as sweet and unfussy as it's possible to get.
Taking place over the course of a year, Strange Planet follows its six protagonists - three boys, three girls - through a seemingly endless quagmire of romantic complexities. Heading the pack is Judy (Karvan), a strong-willed career girl who'll happily sleep with married man Steven (Weaving) to get to the top; her friend Sally (Garner) is a wild-haired eccentric who'll shag anything that moves, while Alice (Watts) is so busy brooding over her long-departed ex she's unlikely to be bedding anyone in the near future. And the guys have it even worse, with divorce, unwanted pregnancy and dating agency traumas to contend with.
While comparisons with the Manhattan sitcom sixsome will undoubtedly be made, Croghan's film is less about wringing laughs out of its characters and more about the characters themselves; these people, for all their charms, also have recognisable flaws which makes it far easier for them to win audience sympathy. And in spite of its relatively unstructured story, it moves along at a cracking pace, with the action split into a series of month-by-month vignettes, linked by stunning shots of metropolitan Sydney.
It's a small film, though, which takes predictable twists and turns to an ending which can be spotted a mile off, and is just too coincidental for comfort. While Strange Planet makes a nice companion piece to Love And Other Catastrophes, and Croghan's flair for ensemble directing is evident, you can't help thinking it would be nice to see her do something a little more daring next time.