Dominated by a massive grain silo, memories are long in Bodgy Creek. Troy is embedded in their memory, not as the star AFL player cut down by a leg injury but as the protester against logging an old growth forest. He becomes identified as the "town killer" who caused the death of their sawmill.
Which is where matters stand until the Bodgy Creek Roosters are in danger of merger or extinction. They have no money, their club-house is infested with asbestos, and they are on a long run of disastrous games.
Bull Barlow (John Howard) is sure of two things he hates. Change within the club through closure or merger, and change in the community through an influx of migrants and refugees.
His widowed daughter-in-law Angie (Kate Mulvaney) sees the marginalised Troy as a possible answer to the woes of the club. When Troy is proposed as the new coach Bull gives them an ultimatum – "Him or me". They choose Troy.
Now read on. On one level the plot is predictable. At times the dialogue is clunky or preachy, and the movie could have benefitted from tighter editing. But, as with Sal Kerrigan's cooking in The Castle (to which it has more than a passing resemblance), it's what they do with it that makes this movie, with its heart so firmly in the right place, so engaging.
As with The Castle we believe in the characters. We want young Neil to heal, a lonely migrant to be reunited with his family, Troy to reconnect with and be accepted by his community, Bull to open his heart, and the Bodgy Creek Roosters to survive.
It's been a long journey since 2009, when Damian Callinan, with funding from the Victorian Government, wrote a play to explore the issues of racism in country towns and to put names and faces to struggling refugees. Out of what became a hit play this movie emerged.
Yes, there are flaws but, as with the very human characters, they are easy to overlook given that their heart is in the right place. Yes, the satire is sharp at times, and a bit preachy. But mostly we laugh with rather than at the community. And it is often "laugh out loud" funny.
In the end, I really warmed to The Merger and wish it well.