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  Somersault Teenage Wasteland
Year: 2004
Director: Cate Shortland
Stars: Abbie Cornish, Sam Worthington, Lynette Curran, Nathaniel Dean, Erik Thomson, Leah Purcell, Hollie Andrew, Paul Gleeson, Olivia Pigeot, Damian De Montemas, Henry Nixon
Genre: DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Heidi (Abbie Cornish) is a sixteen year old girl who lives with her single mother (Olivia Pigeot) and her mother's idle boyfriend. One morning, after all three of them have been out the night before, Heidi's mother goes out to work, leaving her daughter and her boyfriend alone. Heidi makes him a cup of coffee and sits on his bed, and then one thing leads to another and they end up passionately kissing only for Heidi's mother to enter the room unexpectedly and turn hysterical at what she sees. She orders Heidi out of the house, and so begins a journey of self discovery for the young girl as she travels to the small New South Wales town of Jindabyne to escape.

This award winning drama was the debut feature for its writer/director Cate Shortland, and takes us on a familiar rites of passage story where the teenage girl explores her own blossoming identity and suffers her fair share of misery to boot. The approach is determinedly low key throughout, with cinematographer Robert Humphreys using subtle colours, most notably pale blues for the wintertime landscape - it looks consistently freezing. Also used are delicate closeups and the odd example of slow motion to sustain an almost dreamlike atmosphere.

When Heidi arrives in the small town, she telephones an old friend in the area who immediately hangs up on her, so manages to get a roof over her head for the night by going to a party and going off with a young man passing through. After a night of sex, Heidi apparently believes she can now stay with him and his friends, but is promptly informed that he has a girlfriend and she must now leave. She spends the day exploring the countryside and looking for work without success, and that night she goes to a club where she meets twentysomething farmer's son Joe (Sam Worthington), who takes her to a motel room.

Hope springing eternal, Heidi wants to see Joe again after he goes away in the morning, so searches through the telephone book until she finds his home number, where she leaves a message. She then strikes up a relationship with the motel owner Irene (Lynette Curran), perhaps looking for a surrogate mother where Irene is looking for a replacement for her missing son, and they come to an arrangement where Heidi stays in his room; she says her mother has "passed away", yet more indication of her active imagination. After that, she gets a job working in the local service station and seems set, but all is not going well, in a predictably downbeat fashion.

There are too many moments of self-consciousness in Somersault, sentimentalising Heidi's predicament with shots of her leafing through her diary, playing the piano or wandering the chilly fields and lakeshore. As an exploration of a teenage girl's sexuality, it is fair enough, but only comes to the conclusion she must discover the difference between love and sex, a difference Joe has his own problems with, especially when his friends criticise him for his new choice of mate. The people Heidi meets go from wariness, to giving her a chance and then rejecting her; it's only when it's clear she's going away that some of them find it in their hearts to forgive her youthful indiscretions. That said, the film has an attractively luminous appearance, and the actors are consistently impressive. Music by Decoder Ring.

[Metrodome's DVD includes a short film also by Shortland, a "Making of" documentary, eight deleted scenes with optional audio commentary, an interview with Humphreys, and a trailer, providing good value if you're a fan of intimate drama.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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