Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Neil Triffett
Stars: Benson Jack Anthony, Rahart Adams, Jordan Hare, Dylan Lewis, John Prasida, Bridie Carter, Lucy Barrett, Ben Bennett, Craig Hyde-Smith, Adam Zwar.
Emo The Musical comes across like High School Musical or Glee, albeit with a darker sensibility. This locally made coming of age tale explores universal themes of adolescent angst, the need to fit in, sexual identity, the pangs of first love, music, suicide, religion, and mental health issues. And while many Australian films tend to be dark and depressing dramas, Emo The Musical is for the most part upbeat and optimistic.
A “science-educated, sex addicted atheist”, Ethan (Benson Jack Anthony, who plays Erik Thompson’s son in hit tv series 800 Words, etc) has been expelled from his previous school after a failed suicide attempt. When he arrives at his financially struggling new school, Seymour High, he initially has trouble fitting in and being accepted because of his emo image. But when he joins Your Worst Enemy, an emo band at school, things start to look up. The band’s posturing front man Bradley (Rahart Adams, from Nowhere Boys, etc) wants to win an upcoming school bands competition so they can win a record contract and he can meet his idol, faded rocker Doug Skeleton (played by tv host Dylan Lewis).
Ethan also begins to have strong feelings for the pretty Trinity (Jordan Hare, making her film debut here), a devout Christian who sings in a rival Christian band and spruiks the Good Book at every opportunity. Although the two are opposites personality wise and in their beliefs the sparks fly between them. There are lots of complications along the way before this star-crossed romance can resolve itself for a happy ending.
Emo The Musical is based on first time feature film director Neil Triffett’s own 15-minute short film of the same name from a couple of years ago that did the film festival circuit. Triffett has expanded the basic story here, fleshing out several of the characters and giving more weight to the Romeo and Juliet like romance between Ethan and Trinity. However, a subplot involving a gay relationship between Isaac (John Prasida), a member of the Christian band, and another student seems somewhat muted. The film delivers a positive message about standing up to prejudice and bullying and the importance of being true to yourself. But stretched to 90 odd minutes the film struggles through a few flat patches and a couple too many underdeveloped subplots.
Triffett skewers many of the usual high school cliques and cultural stereotypes with some liberal doses of good natured humour. But there are also moments in the film that don’t work. Some of the nonsense dealing with the politics of the school, which only seems to have the one teacher, in the form of the officious Mrs Doyle (Bridie Carter) because most of the other staff have resigned in the face of mounting scandals gripping the school. The fact that Mrs Doyle also seems to be in cohorts with a pharmaceutical company to supply mod enhancing drugs doesn’t work and is an unnecessary distraction to the main narrative.
Triffett himself has co-written the lyrics for the songs here with Craig Pilkington (Upper Middle Bogan, etc) and Charlotte Nicdao (from the tv series Camp, etc), and their lyrics about suicide, teen pregnancy, etc, seems to perfectly address the film’s thematic concerns. However, the film doesn’t quite produce the rousing show stopping number that lifts most musicals. Many of the songs are a little bland and simple in structure.
The film has been nicely shot by veteran cinematographer Ellery Ryan (Spotswood, Is This The Real World, etc).
The young cast throw themselves into the role with enthusiasm and bring an infectious energy to the material. Anthony has a great screen presence here and he delivers a solid performance as the troubled Ethan who eventually discovers who he is and who he wants to be. Anthony and Hare develop a good rapport that overcomes the lack of real depth to their relationship.
Emo The Musical is a bit of fun, but ultimately nowhere near as engaging or as enjoyable as last year’s superb musical coming of age tale Sing Street.