Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Rhys Graham
Stars: Ashleigh Cummings, Toby Wallace, Lily Sulliva, Aliki Matangi, Maya Stange, .
There have been lots of coming-of-age dramas about the messy, dysfunctional and self-destructive lives of teenagers and the carefree joys of being 17, making choices without regard to the consequences, and feeling uncertain of their futures while on the cusp of adulthood. Galore is a new Australian made film that explores universal themes of adolescent angst, the ennui of empty lives, and the joys and confusion of sex. Recently we saw Palo Alto, the Gia Coppola directed drama based on the book written by James Franco, which was one of the better examples of this overcrowded genre. It’s exploration of some edgy material makes this Australian drama that tackles some similar themes seem a little familiar and underwhelming by comparison.
The film is set in Canberra in 2003, the year that the bushfires ravaged the town and left a trail of devastation. The approaching bushfires add an apocalyptic element to the sexual tension and drama that unfold, and it is apparent that the fragile relationships between the central characters will also be destroyed in the aftermath of the conflagration.
During the long hot summer three teenagers wrestle with a number of complex personal and emotional issues and learn important lessons about love, sex, betrayal and the fallibility of adults. During the hot summer before school starts again, the three protagonists hang out by the lake, swimming, sunbaking and having sex and drinking and partying. Laura (played by Lily Sullivan, who made her film debut in P J Hogan’s Mental) is the girlfriend of skater boy Danny (Toby Wallace, from The Turning, Return To Nim’s Island, etc). But Laura’s best friend, the deeply troubled and rebellious Billie (Ashleigh Cummings, from the tv series Puberty Blues, etc) is also in love with Danny and is secretly enjoying some illicit sex with him. The relationship between the three grows increasingly tense.
Into the volatile mix comes Isaac (Aliki Matangi, who can also be seen in Jonah From Tonga) a troubled kid that Billie’s social worker mother (Maya Stange) takes in. But as Billie’s mother seems to be more involved in Isaac’s life than Billie’s, she begins to grow more sullen and reckless in her behaviour.
Galore is the feature film debut from local writer/director Rhys Graham, and it ventures into territory that has been explored in other Australian coming-of-age dramas like Puberty Blues, The F J Holden and Somersault. Graham has drawn upon the experiences of some of his friends, and the film is based loosely on his own experiences and recollections of his adolescence in Canberra. He captures the nuances of the troubled relationship between the protagonists, and, as in real life, not everything is satisfactorily resolved.
Galore has been beautifully shot by Stefan Duscio, who also shot the recent minimalist WWII drama Canopy, and he gives us a nice sense of place, and the Canberra locations are used to good effect. But his decision to work in uncompromising close-up most of the time somehow keeps audiences at a distance. This method of getting up close to the characters was obviously meant to give the material a sense of intimacy and explore the emotional confusion of the characters, but instead it gives the audience little sense of perspective.
Graham comes from a documentary background, and this serves him well with the observational approach to the material. Graham previously directed one episode of the ensemble epic The Turning, based on the Tim Winton novel, but here his pacing is languid and there is a lack or urgency. I also wanted more made of the threat posed by the bushfires that devastated the community. The fires work as an effective visual and visceral metaphor for the relationships going up in flames through betrayal. Another problem is that the sound is often muffled, making it difficult to hear the dialogue and get a sense of what the characters are talking about.
Graham has cast with an eye for authenticity using young performers who bring their own baggage and experiences to the roles. Cummings and Sullivan try hard with the material, and attempt to make their characters feel flesh and blood, giving naturalistic, organic performances. But it is hard to identify with or empathise with the characters, particularly as the girls playing Belle and Laura look too similar, and at times it was hard to differentiate between the pair. Also their motivations were all over the shop. And Danny, the object of their affections, is also a bit of a cipher and its hard to figure out his motivation or get any handle on his character. Making his film debut here Matangi brings a brooding intensity to his role as Isaac.
Galore could have been a stronger coming of age drama, but it seems laboured and lacks originality, especially when compared to the recent and similarly themed Palo Alto.