After spending three hours watching Australia, I decided to watch an Aussie movie from the ’80s I remember enjoying- Young Einstein, where comedian Yahoo Serious decides to steal some of Paul Hogan’s didgeridoo thunder and make a silly spoof of the lives of Albert Einstein and Madame Curie. Einstein didn’t just come up with the theory of relativity, he also invented beer, rock ‘n roll, and surfing. It’s pretty stupid, but entertaining in the same way corny Cheech and Chong movies are.
Young Albert Einstein is a gangly, likeable fellow whose hair looks like he humped a light socket. He hails from Tasmania, where his family harvests and lives entirely on apples. A little in joke there, Tasmania is a big apple producer. His father fends off the Tasmanian devils, who look a lot like the Warner Brothers cartoon character. Albert’s first scientific discovery is putting the first bubbles in beer, by splitting the beer atom. E=mc2, or “emc,” makes his father urge him to leave Tasmania for the mainland, and he undergoes a montage through snow, jungle and other unlikely locales.
He finally comes along an abandoned rail line, and waits by a skeleton holding a timetable until a train carrying Marie Curie, and patent officer Preston Preston- a stereotypical effete British snob- going to Sydney arrives. Preston immediately steals “Emc” and tries to peddle it to another brewing company, but Albert is already applying his theory to music. He needs to jolt acoustic music to light speed, and electrifies a hopped up violin into the first electric guitar.
Part of the fun is just in the backgrounds. There are kangaroos and wallabies everywhere, even on the campus of Sydney U. Which also has a sheep farming department, and flocks of them barge around like the cattle in Blazing Saddles town of Rock Ridge. The movie is very charming and silly, and has a great soundtrack of ’80s Aussie rock interspersed with motifs of “Waltzing Matilda,” “Wild Colonial Boy,” and “Powerhouse.” Mme. Curie speaks in an endearingly ridiculous French accent, Albert wears clodhopper boots, and overall shorts.
Marie Curie (a delightfully cute Odile Le Clezio) is smitten by Albert’s quirky earnest genius, even though he lives in a brothel he thinks is a hotel. This irks Preston Preston, who not only wants to steal Al’s ideas, but also his girl. So he has him tossed in the loony bin, in the Mad Scientists Ward. He languishes there with the madman, finetuning his theory while the kitchen bakes kittens into pies, until Marie sneaks in to rescue him, and challenge him into fighting back against Preston Preston. With his mastery of the electric violin, he is able to blast his way out with rock ‘n roll, in time to save the kittens of course.
He takes Marie to the Scientist Academy Award Ceremony in Paris, where Preston is demonstrating his enormous atomic brewing reactor. Charles Darwin, Sigmund Freud and his overbearing mom, the Wright Brothers- who knew Orville was black?- and others are present, and when Preston activates the reactor, it is of course an atomic bomb- so there’s only one way to drain the power- by inventing rock ‘n roll! This gives Yahoo Serious another chance to get in full blackface, and somehow not be terribly offensive.
First time director-actor-writer Yahoo Serious does a fine job, with silly homages to The Good, the Bad and the Ugly among other things. It’s a quietly funny movie that dips into cartoonish humor when it needs to. The movie is never boring, and remains amusing 20 years later. It looks like they had a lot of fun making it, with lots of self-effacing gags and a Tall Tale feel throughout. Young Einstein is the kind of silly movie everywhere in the ’80s, and rare today. It made Yahoo Serious a brief star in the U.S., he even interviewed himself on 60 Minutes, though he only had 15.
Beers Required to Enjoy: 2 (with bubbles)
Could it be remade today? no way
Quotability Rating: decent
Cheese Factor: Roaring Forties Blue (the only Australian cheese I know of, and it’s a good one)
High Points: Inventing beer, surfing & rock ‘n roll
Low Point: a bit slow to start, but always fun
Gratuitous Boobies: Marie Curie in her undiewear