Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Martin McKenna

Stars: Sean Keenan, Greg Stone, Matt Cowell, Charlotte Best, Susie Porter, Julia Blake.

An Australian Rebel Without A Cause?

There is a strong cinematic tradition of coming of age tales about teenage angst and rebellious youth trying to find their place in the world and the consequences of their disaffection. Often they are trying to deal with a world that doesn’t understand them. This tough local drama is a fine addition to this genre, although it is fairly gritty film that will not hold broad appeal for an audience. It is also an insightful look at a dysfunctional family struggling to cope.

Seventeen year old Mark Blazey (played by Sean Keenan) comes from a dysfunctional family. His older brother Jimmy (Matt Cowell, aka rapper 360) has just been released from prison and his mother Anna (Susie Porter) needs a stiff just drink to cope with the disappointments of everyday life. And Mark is protective of his precocious younger sister Marley (newcomer Elise MacDougall).

Mark is intelligent, as he won a scholarship to a prestigious school. But he also seems to be unsure of what he wants from life. When the film opens he has apparently been expelled from his previous school and is about to make a new start at a public school. He meets the officious and overbearing assistant principal Mr Rickard (played by veteran Greg Stone, from Van Diemen’s Land, etc), who obviously sees the potential in Blazey and wants to ensure that he lives up to it. But this is a clash of strong personalities and a battle of wills ensues. The two regularly clash, but when Mark falls for Rickard’s daughter Kim (Charlotte Best, from Home And Away and Puberty Blues, etc) the scene is set for a confrontation that will change their lives.

Is This The Real World is the debut feature film from Martin McKenna, a television writer who has worked on popular series such as Neighbours, Something In The Air, All Saints, Packed To The Rafters, etc). It’s clear that McKenna has something to say about youth culture. He has drawn upon his own experiences at school to define and shape the central characters. There is an honesty to the material, although the final confrontation between Mark and Rickard is disturbing and discomforting, and stretches credibility. The tone is a little uneven throughout as well.

Keenan is perfectly cast as the rebellious Mark; he has played spunky surf rats previously in tv series like Lockie Leonard and Puberty Blues, and this film shares a few thematic connections with those shows. He is charismatic and intelligent but also has a self destructive streak. At the hands of Stone, Rickard comes across as a bit more of a complex character. He is not an out and out villain even though some of his actions are quite questionable. He believes in discipline and rigour, and can’t understand why Mark doesn’t conform.

Veteran Julia Blake plays Mark’s beloved grandmother who tries to keep the family together until tragedy strikes. She brings such gravitas and a sense of history to her role that we automatically understand that this is a family struggling to cope. Porter, who once used to be in just about every other Australian film, is quite good as Mark’s mother, who is also struggling with a number of problems. Former soap star Best is also good as Kim, and she shares a strong chemistry with Keenan that adds to their on-screen relationship.

The film is set in a small coastal town, and the locations add a sense of authenticity to the gritty drama. The film opens with a stylish touch, courtesy of cinematographer Ellery Ryan – there is a long tracking shot that follows Mark through a schoolyard, reminiscent of the long tracking shot that opened Orson Welles’ noir thriller Touch Of Evil. And the film also transitions slowly from black and white to colour, another stylish touch.



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