Galore: Berlin Review
Writer-director Rhys Graham’s Australian youth drama traces a troubled romantic triangle – make that rectangle – on the sleepy outskirts of Canberra.
The far outlying suburbia of Australia’s capital city, Canberra, shortly before devastating bushfires ravaged the area in 2003 makes an atmospheric canvas in Galore for a story with its foundations in small-town inertia. But first-timer Rhys Graham’s teen drama of friendship, love and bad decisions over one sweltering summer is a vapid emo ballad built around a distancing central character. While it doesn’t stint on visual allure, the film strikes poses of youthful aimlessness, inchoate rebellion and romantic fatalism without summoning the emotional authenticity or originality to back them up.
Teenage girls in particular might respond to Galore’s lyrical depiction of all-consuming adolescent female friendship in what’s basically a coming-of-age story bathed in tragedy. But others are likely to grow weary of the amount of time Stefan Duscio’s camera spends idly caressing the two pretty nymphs at the drama’s center as they play with each other’s hair, stare dreamily into one another’s eyes, take turns painting toenails or let their fingers trail gently over each other’s dewy skin. Honestly, there’s so much of this girly tactility that the film flirts with lesbian titillation, its title inadvertently summoning associations with the tangy innuendo of that giant among Bond girls, Pussy Galore.
Those touchy-feely girls are 17-year-old wild child Billie (Ashleigh Cummings) and aspiring poet/writer Laura (Lily Sullivan), best friends since childhood. They share everything and keep no secrets until Billie starts sleeping with Laura’s skater boyfriend Danny (Toby Wallace). He whispers minor variations on “You make me crazy” about a hundred times, so we know he’s intoxicated. We’re meant to believe that Billie is also in love with him and searching for the courage to confess to Laura. But as played by Cummings in a performance that’s all about her eyeliner and flame-colored bangs, Billie seems incapable of real feeling, merely requiring everyone else to adore her, which is one of the movie’s key problems.
Insufferably petulant and insensitive, Billie is a self-absorbed low-rent princess with little evidence of an inner life. The fact that the filmmakers and almost everyone else onscreen remain so besotted with her, even after her stupid impulsiveness gets them all into deep trouble, becomes increasingly mystifying. When she finally takes responsibility for her actions and exposes her pain, it’s too late to generate much poignancy.
The only one who to some extent calls Billie out on her selfish behavior is Isaac (Aliki Matangi), a brooding but kind Pacific Islander youth. He’s also the movie’s most interesting character, and despite being the principal cast’s least experienced member, he gives the most nuanced performance.
Put up by Billie’s social worker mother (Maya Stange) in a trailer in their yard, Isaac is trying to stay straight after some brushes with the law. But he pays a price for Billie’s recklessness when she involves him in a drunken joyride in a stolen car, which has rippling consequences. Laura’s attraction to Isaac also creates complications as she struggles to deal with the betrayal of her BFF with Danny.
Having grown up in the area where the film is set, Graham has an immersive feel for nowheresville ennui, and for the free-floating existence of teens cruising in cars, getting smashed or stoned, flirting and fighting in a world where adults are exiled to the outer margins. He layers the expressive soundtrack with a melodic score by Flynn Wheeler and Christopher O. Young, along with songs by indie bands like The Streets and The Pixies. Duscio’s jittery handheld, up-close camerawork is clichéd visual shorthand for youthful agitation. But his more composed work is striking, from sensuous images of the river where the characters go to hang out or swim, or the dramatic damn and elevated bridge that point to life’s fragility, all drenched in the hazy glow of gorgeous, unmistakably Australian light.
The writer-director drapes a veil of foreboding over the action by having Billie in an early voiceover anticipate the deadly fires that would destroy everything she’s ever known. But the developments that build toward that disaster and the personal tragedy that it symbolizes are prosaic. Galore merely puts an arthouse gloss on generic teen angst material, with dialogue that either takes its cue from Laura’s writing to be overworked and flowery, or is otherwise just shallow. Considering the sorrowful outcome, it's an oddly unaffecting drama.
Venue: Berlin Film Festival (Generation 14 Plus)
Production company: Film Camp
Cast: Ashleigh Cummings, Aliki Matangi, Maya Stange, Lily Sullivan, Toby Wallace
Director-screenwriter: Rhys Graham
Producer: Philippa Campey
Executive producers: Sue Murray, Victoria Treole, Eleonora Granata Jenkinson
Director of photography: Stefan Duscio
Production & costume designer: Ben Morieson
Music: Flynn Wheeler, Christopher O. Young
Editor: Andy Canny
Sales: eOne Films International
No rating, 103 minutes