Reviewed by GREG KING.
Hey hey it’s pretty awful!
This quirky Australian-made coming of age film about a 13 year old outcast struggling to come to terms with her identity and burgeoning sexuality is something of a disappointing and disjointed mess. The problem lies with the unfocused screenplay, the largely unbelievable characters, and some unforgivably sloppy direction from first time filmmaker Cathy Randall.
Esther Blueberger (newcomer Danielle Catanazariti) comes from a moderately well off Jewish family in Adelaide, attends a posh private all-girls’ school, but struggles to fit in because her rather nerdy personality goes against the grain of the rest of the students, who seem to hjave as much personality as automatons. And the cracks also begin to show at home. Her twin brother Jacob (Christian Byers) seems to be having problems of his own that no one really understands or wants to talk about. Her overbearing, perfectionist mother (Essie Davis) and buttoned down, humourless father (Russell Dykstra) seem to be growing further apart.
But when Esther meets the rebellious Sunni (Keisha Castle-Hughes, nest known for her breakthrough role in the far more charming and engaging Whale Rider) she briefly takes a walk on the wild side. Before long she has furtively left her school to attend Sunni’s rough inner suburban public school, disguised unconvincingly as a Swedish exchange student.
Things go from bad to worse, and the very busy screenplay explores themes such as adolescent sexuality, bullying, alienation, dysfunctional families, death, finding your own identity, and friendship, in unconvincing fashion. The film never rings true, and there are some scenes here that are quite problematic, in both tone and content. The film’s cliched and contrived feelgood ending celebrating non-conformity also rings hollow.
However, for all the film’s failings, Randall seems to work well with her actors and draws some good performances from her young cast in particular. Cast against type, Castle-Hughes plays a more grown up role here, and she is quite good as the surly, rebellious and confident Sunni. Newcomer Catanazariti is quite good in the complex title role and does her best to make the character sympathetic and credible. Byers continues to build on a short but impressive resume that includes Opal Dreams and December Boys with yet another solid performance as Esther’s troubled brother.
However, Toni Collette is wasted in an under-developed role as Sunni’s mother, who also works as a pole dancer at night.
If the clunkily-titled Hey Hey It’s Esther Blueburger is anything to judge by, then it’s going to be another fairly grim year for quality Australian films.