In Broome in 1969, Willie Johnson (Rocky McKenzie) is having trouble wooing his girl Rosie (Jessica Mauboy), who ends up with a bandleader named Lester (Dan Sultan). His mother Theresa (Ningali Lawford) sends him back to boarding school in Perth to continue his education for the priesthood. One night, he and several others steal food from the college kitchen but are caught. Willie admits to being the thief, but runs away before he can be punished. He spends the night on the streets of Perth before meeting up with 'Uncle' Tadpole (Ernie Dingo), who offers to help him get home. They go to Fremantle where Tadpole allows himself to be run over by a Kombi van, hoping that the two hippies inside will help him. Not realising how far it will be to Broome, the hippies, 'Slippery' the German (Tom Budge) and Annie (Missy Higgins), his girlfriend, agree to drive them.
Father Benedictus (Geoffrey Rush), head of the College, has seen Willie's potential and determines to locate him; through Tadpole's homeless friends, he learns that Willie is heading to Broome. The travellers drive north, stopping at a roadhouse where Willie meets the tarty 'Roadhouse Betty' (Magda Szubanski). Tadpole steals some food, a bottle of wine, and an audio tape, nearly causing them to get shot by Betty, but they manage to escape. Slippery becomes disillusioned, and leaves Willie and Tadpole behind in the middle of nowhere; Tadpole curses the hippies by pointing a bone, and the van promptly breaks down.
Willie then gets a ride with a passing truck carrying the members of a football team. They end up in Port Hedland where he meets flirty Roxanne (Deborah Mailman), who takes him to the 'condom tree' and offers to 'show him a good time', but her boyfriend turns up and a fight ensues. Willie is rescued by Tadpole, who says that all young men end up there at some point. The next morning, they are driving along a desert road when a hung-over Roxanne emerges from the back seat, startling everyone. While smoking some pot, they are discovered by police and arrested, despite Annie's attempts at stopping the police from arresting them. At the police station, Slippery reveals that his real name is Wolfgang Benedictus. The police then put them in a jail cell for a night.
They are released next morning, and drive on to Broome, where they go to the bar where Rosie is performing. Willie tries to win her back, but ends up in a fight with Lester, only to be disrupted by a church temperance march, which invites everyone to the beach to testify. Willie tells Rosie he loves her, and they kiss. At the beach, Willie's mother reveals that she had a son to another man, who turns out to be Father Benedictus. Wolfgang is their son. Tadpole is spotted by Willie's mother, and she tells Willie that he is Tadpole's son.Rocky McKenzie as William "Willie" Johnson, the film's protagonist; a rebellious teenage boy who escapes the Catholic Mission in Perth to return to his home in Broome.
Jessica Mauboy as Rosie, an aspiring singer and the love of Willie's life. Mauboy, who was runner-up in the fourth season of Australian Idol, makes her acting debut.
Ernie Dingo as Stephen "Uncle Tadpole" Johnson, a drunk who accompanies Willie on his adventure. Dingo played the role of Tadpole in the original production of the stage play Bran Nue Dae in 1989.
Missy Higgins as Annie, Slippery's spiritual girlfriend who is travelling with him to Perth. This is Higgins' acting debut.
Geoffrey Rush as Father Benedictus, the film's antagonist; as a strict German priest who runs the Catholic Mission in Perth training young men to become priests, he pursues Willie who ran away from the school. The role was offered to Rush by director Perkins.
Tom Budge as Slippery, a German hippie tourist travelling with his girlfriend Annie in a Kombi van.
Deborah Mailman as Roxanne
Ningali Lawford as Theresa, Willie's mother. Ningali is one of the cast members from the original 1989 stage production of Bran Nue Dae.
Stephen "Baamba" Albert as Pastor Flaggon. Stephen is also one of the cast members from the original 1989 stage production of Bran Nue Dae.
Dan Sultan as Lester, the local band leader who finds himself in love with Rosie.
Magda Szubanski as Roadhouse Betty, the frisky owner of a Roadhouse.
Bran Nue Dae premiered at the Melbourne International Film Festival on its closing night on 8 August 2009. The film made its international debut at the Toronto International Film Festival at the Scotiabank Theatre on 12 September 2009. The film will be among the lineup of out-of-competition films to be screened at the Sundance Film Festival in 2010. The film made its official theatrical premiere at the Sun Pictures theatre in Broome, Western Australia on 8 December 2009 where the stars of the film walked a "red dirt" carpet. In the lead up to the premiere on the day, stars of the film Mauboy, Sultan, Higgins, and Dingo put on a public performance with the Kuckles band in Broome's Chinatown.
The film was theatrically released in Australia on 14 January 2010 and had an opening weekend rank of No. 6, averaging $6,977 at 231 screens for a gross of $1.6 million, $3.7 million in its first two weeks and eventually grossing more than $7.5 million. The film "... has since become one of the Top 50 Australian films of all time at the local box office."
The film received generally mixed reviews. Review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes reports that 57% of critics have given the film a positive review based on 60 reviews, with an average score of 6/10. The critical consensus is: "It's original and high-spirited, but Bran Nue Dae is also uneven and sometimes overly kitschy."
Dennis Harvey of Variety said "It retains that dated once-almost-hip look – like Up with People", but it contained "blandly stereotypical characters in a trite road-trip narrative" and in regards to younger audiences, claimed "There's scant real dancing, mostly forgettable, showtune-type songs and no ethnic authenticity." Craig Mathieson of SBS Films commented that "Bran Nue Dae has a daffy, garish energy that's reflected in brisk pacing and up-tempo tunes". On director Perkins, he stated "Visually, Perkins is not a natural fit for this material", comparing it to her 1998 feature Radiance, but "here she enthusiastically takes to the moments of farce and productions numbers." Mathieson added that the "frames feel cluttered, with an occasional echo of the amped-up musical melodrama" but concluded approvingly that Bran Nue Dae was similar to the 1982 Australian musical film Starstruck in that it "carries the day with energy and self-belief." The Age's Philippa Hawker praised the cast, stating Dingo was "terrific as Uncle Tadpole", for Rush who "brings an idiosyncratic physical energy and an extravagant German accent to the role" and newcomer Jessica Mauboy brought "sweetness and confidence to the role of Rosie".
The following is a list of awards that Bran Nue Dae or the cast have been nominated for or won:Wins
Melbourne International Film Festival awardsAudience award for Best Feature
2009 Toronto International Film FestivalPeople's Choice Award
The official soundtrack was released on 15 January 2010.
All tracks written by Jimmy Chi, Kuckles, and Cezary Skubiszewski.Chart performance