Berlin Hidden Gem: 'Emo the Musical' Puts "Twisted" Spotlight on High School Romance

Courtesy of Berlinale
'Emo the Musical'

Newcomer Neil Triffett’s musical tells a love story between an angsty boy and a Christian girl, with a few not-quite 'La La Land'-style songs.

As La La Land’s song “City of Stars” eyes Oscar glory later this month, an ever-so-slightly less cheery original number from a Berlinale 2017 title could — perhaps — be jostling for awards attention next time around.

“We’re All Going to Die” might sound rather depressing (not least for lyrics that reference both terrorism and bird flu), but Emo the Musical director Neil Triffett says it is actually “inspiring and rocky — it’s a fun one!”

Emo the Musical — also a contender for the festival’s most eye-catching title — is a “kind of twisted high school musical comedy” set and shot in Melbourne, says the Australian about his feature-length debut.

At the heart of the film, screening in Berlin’s Generation sidebar, is a classic(ish) Romeo and Juliet story: Suicidal emo boy (Benson Jack Anthony) meets Christian girl (Jordan Hare) in new school; suicidal emo boy falls in love with Christian girl; suicidal emo boy would rather join band than Christian girl’s group of evangelists; Christian clique and emo clique disapprove of relationship; hilarity ensues.

But unlike La La Land or, indeed, High School Musical, there’s absolutely no dancing at all in Emo the Musical (even though “We’re All Going to Die” sounds like perfect waltz material). “We were tempted to make the emos dance, but decided against it,” admits Triffett.

The Melbourne resident says he remembers seeing emo kids congregate around his local train station and witnessing the interaction with Christian groups at his school.

Social observers may point out that the heyday of emo — a kind of hyperexpressive punk-goth-pop hybrid that arguably hit its peak in the early- to mid-2000s — may be long over. Former poster girl Avril Lavigne is now a two-time divorcee with her own fragrance line, while bands such as Fall Out Boy and Panic! at the Disco have made no secret of their attempts to shed their emo image.

“Emos do kind of exist, but less so,” says Triffett. “I would argue that the rest of society has swallowed them up — you see sports players with emo haircuts now.”

In something of a perfect circle, Emo the Musical began life in Berlin three years ago as a short (also in Generation). “That’s where we first caught the attention of the funding bodies,” says Triffett. “So it’s amazing to be back.”

While the film may be aimed at younger viewers, the director says it has enough social commentary to earn laughs among the older generations. And, despite emo becoming something of an endangered species, Triffett says the story is still relevant.

“Kids are still angry! And still really sad! I think the most beautiful thing about emos is that they said we didn’t have to be happy all the time. And the kids are still doing that.”

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