Stunning pop, Theater Camp and new Zadie Smith: Australia’s best things to watch, read and do this weekend | Culture

Watch in cinemas

Laugh at theatre kids

Anyone with lived experience of the chaotic highs and humiliating lows of school musicals will take to this US mockumentary like jazz hands to a show tune. Directed by Molly Gordon and Nick Lieberman, it stars Ben Platt (Dear Evan Hansen) and Gordon as overzealous teachers at a kids’ summer theatre camp scrambling to produce an original musical to honour their camp director, Joan (Amy Sedaris), who is in a coma after a strobe lighting incident. It’s very funny, and in cinemas now. – Janine Israel

Watch at home

Gritty prestige drama (Netflix)

Billed as Britain’s The Wire and set amid the gang wars of east London, Top Boy enjoyed cult success for two short seasons in the UK before it was cancelled in 2014. A few years later, Drake and Netflix joined forces to bring it back, and across its next three seasons it continued to pull a serious amount of acclaim – with a final string of episodes this month that the Guardian awarded five stars, before calling it a show that “changed TV forever”. – Steph Harmon

Comfort-food romcom (Netflix)

Haley Lu Richardson and Ben Hardy play two strangers who meet-cute on an international flight, in a romcom that is exactly what you expect from Netflix at this point: over-saturated colour, cliched location shots and a breezy, comfort-food plot that you can half ignore with a second screen. Does that sound horrible to you? Perhaps! But, writes Adrian Horton, “what it loses to too Netflix and too twee … it gains in two winsome, strikingly naturalistic performances from its magnetic leads.”


Zadie does Dickens

Zadie Smith’s new novel fictionalises the life of a failing real-life Victorian novelist, William Ainsworth, who once outsold Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist and, in Smith’s telling at least, never shut up about it (Dickens is a character here too, along with William Thackeray). The real protagonist is Ainsworth’s abolitionist housekeeper, Eliza Touchet; through her Smith questions what truth means in fiction, and the stories told (and untold) about slavery in Britain. The Guardian loved it. Andrea Long Chu did not. Two weeks later, Australia can finally catch up. – SH

The Fraud by Zadie Smith is out now in Australia. Photograph: IBL/Shutterstock

Rethinking ambition

It’s been two years since the beginning of the great resignation, and now the end of ambition has its very own buzz-book. In All the Gold Stars, journalist Rainesford Stauffer (who previously chronicled quarter-life crises in An Ordinary Age) interrogates who gets to have #goals, what it feels like to have them thwarted, and a more humane way forward. Much of this book is grounded in a distinctly American flavour of hustle culture, but given Australia’s ever-widening inequality issues, it could be a postcard from a grim near-future. – AG

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Stunning orchestral pop

Since announcing her retirement from music in 2019 (she didn’t follow through), any output from Mitski Miyawaki feels like a gift – albeit a sad one that shatters upon opening then rearranges its shards into something sardonic and striking. On this, her seventh album, Mitski ventures into country-inflected pop territory, with 32 wistful minutes that, as Alexis Petridis wrote in his five-star review, “slip between the heartfelt and the sardonic without ever losing its grip on the listener”. – JI

Album: End by Explosions in the Sky

Prog rock kings

A breakup album you’ll want to make love to, Explosions in the Sky’s first studio outing since 2016 has all the shimmering walls of sound existing fans will expect. Given how nature-focused the band have been in recent years (their last project was a soundtrack to a PBS documentary about Big Bend national park), End also scans as a moving eulogy for the climate crisis. Young people: imagine if “lo-fi beats to relax/study to” had lots and lots more guitars. –AG


Aika Levins’ Japanese/Middle Eastern barbecue
Aika Levins’ Japanese/Middle Eastern barbecue. Photograph: Lizzie Mayson/The Guardian. Food and prop styling Kitty Coles. Food assistant Florence Blair.

Mixing Japanese, Chinese and Middle Eastern cooking techniques and flavours may sound like a recipe for a fusion bomb, but in London chef Aika Levins’ hands it all somehow works. The smacked cucumber and radish salad is particularly appealing at the moment, as both are on special at many green grocers and supermarkets.

Book ahead

Both Melbourne Theatre Company and Sydney Theatre Company announced their 2024 programs this week, and there’s good stuff ahead. In Sydney, Dear Evan Hansen is getting its first original production since Broadway, and a new “cine-theatre” extravaganza from Dorian Gray director Kip Williams: Dracula, starring Zahra Newman in every single role. In Melbourne, My Brilliant Career is being adapted into a new musical, Nikki Shiels will be starring in A Streetcar Named Desire, and Pulitzer-winning plays Topdog/Underdog and English are making their Australian debut. Full subscriptions for STC and MTC are on sale now; stay tuned for specific on-sale dates later in the year. – SH

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