Chucking on the Australian film Hey Hey It’s Esther Blueburger (2008), I was expecting a pretty light film aimed at teens because it was based on a popular series of young adult novels. Or so I thought. I clearly had the film totally mixed up with something else. Because whilst the film is aimed at (older) teens, it is not particularly light, at least not large parts of it. It is a really excellent film that more people should see though.
The film has a creative and brilliant opening that definitely gets you excited for what is to come. It immediately conveys the utter isolation that being a teenager can bring as the entire school does cartwheels, whilst Esther looks on, totally outside of the group. Small groupings or cliques of teens are a recurring image throughout the film. The film sees Esther, sick of being an outsider at her private school, just piss off and start going to another school. In this case a public school where she is befriended by the much more world wise Sunni, played by Keisha Castle-Hughes who came to prominence for her Oscar Award nominated turn in Whale Rider (2002). The film then chronicles this odd couple as they traverse life inside and outside of school. The film nails much of the maddening pretension that plagues many private schools and just the crippling conformity that is inherent in basically all modern schooling. Thematically it explores some really important issues for teens, but achieves this by making the film feel very real. This is no straight, whitewashed story. Bad things happen here and even the titular character does some highly fuckin questionable things. But everything onscreen is geared really well to the thematic and narrative purpose of the film.
So many films aimed at this market are shot in such a bland manner that the vim in how Hey Hey It’s Esther Blueburger is brought to life is all kinds of refreshing. There are some great stylistic flourishes from director Cathy Randall, using creative camera angles and some really overt choreography of the characters on screen. The script is wickedly funny but the film is certainly a bit darker than I was expecting. The balance is just about right overall (though a late plot point is misjudged in its bleakness). The characters are also great, each of them feeling different and real. The character of Esther in particular is a great one, a teenager with real sass who is also willing to make mistakes and learn about the world through them. Much of the credit for this must go to the really charming performance of Danielle Catanzariti as Esther. Catanzariti has not been sighted since, but hopefully we can see her onscreen again soon because she is an excellent performer, especially in terms of her comic timing which is incredibly sharp. She is definitely helped along by the aforementioned Castle-Hughes as well as a supporting cast featuring a bunch of really highly regarded Australian performers, including Toni Collette and Essie Davis.
This film was such a pleasant surprise. It was not particularly well received out here. I’m not sure if like me, people were expecting something a little lighter. But this is a firecracker of a film, really original and well worth your time if you can track a copy down.
Verdict: Pint of Kilkenny
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