Teenage Kicks (The Mardi Gras Film Festival)
Miles Szanto, Shari Sebbens, Daniel Webber, Charlotte Best, Ian Roberts
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This gay-themed Aussie coming of age drama goes straight to the head of the class.
Yes, Australia makes a lot of coming-of-age films. It’s an undeniable fact, but another undeniable fact is that most of them are pretty damn good. We have a very rich history of films about young people in this country, from vintage efforts like Puberty Blues, The Year My Voice Broke, and The Getting Of Wisdom through to more freshly minted tales like The Black Balloon, Somersault, and Is This The Real World. Now joining the class is Teenage Kicks, in which a high school student deals not only with the day-to-day hang-ups of being a kid, but also with a growing wave of grief and the explosive uncertainty of his own sexuality.
Miklos (a highly engaging turn from young up and comer, Miles Szanto) is tucked tight into the middle of a migrant family with a host of skeletons banging around in its proverbial cupboard. When he inadvertently causes the death of his older brother, it rips the doors off that cupboard, and sends Miklos hurtling across all points of the emotional map. With hormones raging, he stumbles into an awkwardly nurturing relationship with his late brother’s pregnant girlfriend (The Sapphires’ Shari Sebbens radiates warmth and quiet strength in a beautiful performance), while also physically coming to the realisation that he is gay, leading him into a series of sexual fumblings with both increasingly seedy strangers and his own best friend, Dan (Daniel Webber). Dan’s new girlfriend, Phaedra (Puberty Blues’ charmer, Charlotte Best, continues to bewitch with seeming effortlessness here), meanwhile, only complicates things further.
Directed on fumes by highly experienced shorts filmmaker, Craig Boreham (whose 2009 short form effort, Drowning, provided the template for his feature debut here), Teenage Kicks belies its modest budget roots with a glistening, highly cinematic look, and a host of polished performances. While its downward-spiral-to-revelation plot quietly recalls Ana Kokkinos’s incendiary 1998 provocation piece, Head On, Teenage Kicks remains searing in its originality. Thanks to its director’s daring and the lack of compromise inherent in its performances, the film bravely puts sexuality – and, indeed, homosexuality – front and centre, and blithely refuses to back away from the Pandora’s Box of questions that it opens. Though playing with familiar genre tropes, Teenage Kicks does so with remarkable energy, all-too-rare sensitivity, and a fierce sense of low budget ingenuity. If Australia keeps making coming-of-age movies like this, then it’s impossible to have too many of them.
Teenage Kicks will screen at The Mardi Gras Film Festival on February 21 at Event Cinemas, George Street in Sydney. Click here to buy tickets. Teenage Kicks will also screen at The Brisbane Queer Film Festival on March 15 at Newfarm Cinemas, Brunswick. Click here to buy tickets. And if you’d like to organise your own screening of Teenage Kicks, click here.