Ashleigh Cummings and Lily Sullivan play best friends on the verge of adulthood. They’re inseparable, but as is often the case, boys are about to get in the way, as is rebellious Cummings’ tendency to self-destruct. There’s Sullivan’s boyfriend Toby Wallace, whom Cummings is sneaking around with, plus brooding Aliki Matangi, who arrives as another troubled kid Cummings’ social worker single mum (Maya Stange) has decided to help out adds some sparks to this dynamic. Meanwhile, bushfires raging in Canberra are seemingly headed their way.
A potentially interesting bushfire crisis backdrop is wasted on a mopey, clichéd wannabe “Puberty Blues” coming-of-age story. This 2014 flick from debut feature film writer-director Rhys Graham (who directed a segment of “The Turning”) ironically even casts one of the stars of the TV version of “Puberty Blues”, actress Ashleigh Cummings in the lead role. Proof that being somewhat realistic doesn’t make a film interesting, barely a damn thing happens in the entire film (romantic musical chairs is hardly plot in my view, not on its own), and the lead character played in uncharismatic fashion by Cummings is an unsympathetic, mopey bore. She seems like she’s in a foul mood from start to finish, and that’s no way to earn the audience’s sympathy or even interest. Co-stars Toby Wallace and particularly Aliki Matangi are so distressingly low-key and mumbly that they almost seem like they’re trying to avoid being seen or heard on screen. Sure, teens are awkward and often suffer low self-esteem, but the actors themselves seemed to lack confidence and charisma, failing to draw me in. The story, what little there actually is, doesn’t really bring anything new or interesting to the coming-of-age genre except quite a bit of confusion (At one point I thought Cummings and Sullivan might’ve been playing sisters. We don’t really get much set-up. There’s also something related to Sullivan’s character towards the end that completely lacked explanation for me. You’ll know it when you see it).
What I found particularly uncomfortable, though, was the creepy obsession director Graham and cinematographer Stefan Duscio (“Scumbus”, “The Mule”) seemed to have for lingering in on super close-ups of squirmy, wet-mouthed teens kissing. Maybe I’m the oldest 36 year-old in the world, but I found it creepy and slurpy. I’m not suggesting anything untoward about the filmmaker himself, simply that the cinematic approach taken results in creepy discomfort in the viewer, it’s unmistakable and unescapable. The characters are almost exclusively shot in close-up with nowhere else for the viewer to turn except away from the screen and even then you can still hear the sickly slurping.
It’s not often you get a film set in Canberra, let alone a rural (or at least outer suburban) part of the Australian Capital Territory. Other than that, I got nothing here folks. Clearly aiming to be another “Puberty Blues”, this is a mopey, completely ancient, and pervy-looking film that I found as aggravating as it was boring. I know boredom was part of what was driving these characters, but that doesn’t mean I have to end up bored myself. Maybe teens will relate to it, though even when I was a teen drinking and partying held zero interest for me and holds even less now. And I quite often love coming-of-age stories, hell my favourite TV shows “The Wonder Years” is a coming-of-age story (on both a macro and micro level if you think about it). This just isn’t any good, not to me anyway. I got nothing out of this at all except some nice scenery not very well-shot by a wobbly cameraman. Maybe you’ll like it, but I wish I had gotten that bushfire movie instead, that might’ve been a winner. Here we only get about two minutes of it. Also, what in the hell is with the title? That has seemingly no bearing on anything at all here. In fact, for a film severely lacking in many areas, the title is unintentionally hilarious.