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This 'Deckchair' Has Legs

By Sara Gebhardt
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 27, 2004; Page WE30

"DANNY DECKCHAIR" is a delightful, well-acted illustration of an unhappy person's breakout from his mundane existence. To say the Australian film -- about a daydreamer's desire to dramatically change his life -- is not realistic is technically inaccurate. The story is loosely based on a 1982 incident in which a man named Larry Walters shot up 16,000 feet over Long Beach, Calif., in an aluminum lawn chair hanging from 42 weather balloons. He drifted for a few hours and eventually landed, uninjured but entangled in power lines in a residential neighborhood.

The movie version takes the usual liberties in order to craft a magical story out of reality. When cement truck driver Danny Morgan (Rhys Ifans) blasts into the sky on a lawn chair propelled by helium balloons, he survives an arduous journey that takes him hundreds of miles away from suburban Sydney to the northern town of Clarence, where he lands in the yard of his soul mate, Glenda (Miranda Otto). Despite intense media coverage (that conspicuously fails to show a picture of the man who has disappeared), Danny remains undiscovered.

In "Danny Deckchair," Danny Morgan (Rhys Ifans) from Down Under flies up, up and away from his former life. (By Lisa Tomasetti -- Lions Gate Films)

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After successfully escaping a life that has been suffocating him, Danny seeks to reinvent himself without the baggage of a live-in girlfriend who doesn't respect him and a job that fails to energize him. As Danny becomes an important member of the town, he falls in love with Glenda and discovers what was missing from his life.

Because the chemistry between the romantic leads is so good, what could have ended up merely a sappy fairy tale comes across as a believable and captivating narrative. Comedic moments throughout also lend themselves well to the mostly happy sequence of events that take place in a lush, green environment fitting for a daydream setting.

But we all have to wake up from our reveries eventually. When his unfaithful girlfriend back home, who has used her boyfriend's disappearance to bolster her career as a budding television journalist, finds him, she forces Danny to confront what he really wants from life.

In a poignant, often funny portrait of a man who takes charge of his destiny, "Danny Deckchair" gives wings to the desires of those everywhere who feel trapped or stagnant. Whether it convinces people that they're never too entrenched to change their lives or inspires them to affix heavy-duty helium balloons to their office chairs and bust out of their cubicle grids is not important.

This charming, hopeful story does very well just by validating our daydreams.

DANNY DECKCHAIR (PG-13, 90 minutes) -- Contains sexual content. At Cinema Arts Theatre and Landmark's E Street Cinema.

© 2004 The Washington Post Company