Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Jonny Leahy
Stars: Zara Zoe, Monica Zanetti, Robert Alexander, Jeannie Drynan.
This low budget female centric film from director Jonny Leahy, a recent VCA graduate, is an honest and comical urban comedy/drama looking at the developing friendship between two troubled young women from different backgrounds.
Leah (newcomer Zara Zoe in her feature film debut) is a young woman who has been diagnosed with terminal melanoma, who has a chance encounter with the troubled lesbian university student Caitlin Davis (Monica Zanetti, the short film Waiting For Taylor, etc), who still lives at home with her parents. Leah has just left her doctor’s office and is waiting for her boyfriend to drive her home. However, it soon becomes clear that he is not coming. Caitlin chats to Leah, and when she learns of Leah’s illness she decides to try and help her face up to her fears and the future.
It’s a meeting that sets the two off on a journey through the streets of Newtown as they learn to embrace life and face the future, and also discover that they have much in common. An encounter with Caitlin’s former partner adds a frisson of tension to the proceedings, but mainly the film is low key and lacks any real sense of urgency. There is a rather melancholy tone to the material, but Leah’s heart wrenching breakdown at a cemetery adds some emotional resonance to the story.
Written by star Zanetti, the script for Skin Deep has a deeply personal and semi-autobiographical feel to it as it was based on her own experiences of dealing with melanoma. There have been a number of female centric films dealing with lesbian relationships, from 1995’s The Incredibly True Adventure Of Two Girls In Love through to last year’s more explicit Blue Is The Warmest Colour and even the recent Carol. Skin Deep deals with Caitlin’s sexuality in a positive light, and there is a touching scene towards the end involving a discussion between her and her father (Robert Alexander).
But there is no sex in Skin Deep; rather Zanetti’s nuanced script explores female friendships, mortality, sexuality, acceptance and the emotional journey of the two protagonists as they talk about their lives and fears. There is a freshness and honesty to their discussions. The meandering and leisurely pacing, the dialogue driven narrative, and the revealing insights into the characters as they wander through the city streets at night will remind audiences of Richard Linklater’s Before trilogy.
Skin Deep is the debut feature film for director Jonny Leahy, who has years of experience from working behind the scenes as part of the camera crew on television shows like Changi and Fireflies, and films like The Night We Called It A Day and Albert Nobbs, etc. His direction is unhurried and measured and we get time to know the two characters. Leahy and his cinematographer Rodrigo Vidal-Dawson (Wildside, etc) have shot much of the film on the streets of Newtown itself, lending a rich authenticity to the journey of the two girls. At a rather brisk 72 minutes there is little padding here.
Zanetti delivers a fine performance as the aggressive, troubled but street wise Caitlin. Newcomer Zoe seems a little tentative in early scenes as the more naive Leah, but she grows more comfortable and assured as the film progresses.