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  Ellie & Abbie (& Ellie's Dead Aunt) Relatively Speaking
Year: 2020
Director: Monica Zanetti
Stars: Sophie Hawkshaw, Zoe Terakes, Marta Dusseldorp, Rachel House, Julia Billington, Bridie Connell, Madeleine Withington, Randall Hua, Melanie Bowers, Ed Wightman, Chiara Gizzi, Olga Markovic, Patrick James, Orya Golgowsky
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance, FantasyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Ellie (Sophie Hawkshaw) doesn't believe she is that much different from any other Australian teen, she goes to school, has a good relationship with her mother, she gets excellent grades, but one thing is missing from her life: a girlfriend. She has a crush on classmate Abbie (Zoe Terakes) but is too nervous to make the first move, despite her confidence in other areas, so when the school dance, or formal as they are known in Australia, approaches Ellie decides she must take the bull by the horns and ask Abbie to go with her. However, this will involve coming out to her mother Erica (Marta Dusseldorp), and the watery smile this news is greeted with makes Ellie furious as she storms out of the room...

There was a lot of storming out in this film, as its writer and director Monica Zanetti was not afraid to portray her lead character as unreasonable and self-centred when it came to dealing with her own issues - just like a real teenager. There was a ring of authenticity here that came about despite a fantasy plot where, now Ellie is out, the ghost of her dead aunt Tara (Julia Billington) pops up to enthusiastically take the role of her fairy godmother, whether her niece wants her around or not. The first half of the film was a genuinely funny premise akin to a television sitcom, and all the performers were obviously having fun portraying the humour with a real Australian personality to appeal to the home crowd over any international concerns.

There was a scene right at the start where one lovestruck chap stages a stunt in the English class with a message written on the whiteboard asking the object of his affection to the prom, whereupon he is corrected by the teacher that "prom" is American, and he needs to write the message with better grammar and punctuation, thus setting out that this was not yet another teen comedy to slavishly follow in the footsteps of the Hollywood model. Yet while that could have been parochial and insular, by being so focused on the specifics of the extensive Aussie gay community Zanetti created something, based on her popular stage play, with a surprisingly relatable tone since while everyone has different experiences in countries around the globe, there were elements in common that could appeal to many.

And the film was not above getting serious, if anything it got a shade too serious and sorry for itself because the inevitable question of how the eighties aunt died back then arises, and it's more complicated than the car crash Ellie has been told about. Couple that to her tone deaf endeavours to seem sensible to her mother and even get on properly with Abbie, who seems to have less hang-ups, but actually, simply has a different perspective and may not be as comfortable in herself as she projects. You may find yourself willing Ellie to finally say the right thing, but forgive her as she is young and is able to work these things out by trial and error, as there is no correct method of growing up and considering romance. Sweetly and clearly conveyed by a canny cast (including Bridie Cornwell stealing scenes as a twittery teacher and Rachel House as Erica's more together best friend), this acknowledged gay rights, as they were known in the eighties, have evolved, and presumably will continue to do so, that sense that the story was not over lingering at the fade, both on an intimate and wider, social scale. Music by David Chapman.

Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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