Reviewed by Drew Ninnis
Director: Rhys Graham
Screenplay: Rhys Graham
Runtime: 103 minutes
Cast: Ashleigh Cummings, Lily Sullivan, Aliki Matangi, Toby Wallace.
Trailer: “All of us used to run around like crazy.” (Warning: trailer does the film a disservice.)
Plot: Centring on a friendship between 17-year-olds Billie and Laura, Galore documents the familiar growing pains and coming-of-age of Australian teenagers. Set in the summer holidays, with the sweltering heat of Canberra and threatening bushfires on the horizon, matters are further complicated when Billie develops feelings for Laura’s boyfriend, Danny. Thrown into the mix is troubled teenager Isaac, further complicating Billie and Laura’s relationship.
Review: Galore is a sensitive and authentic feature film debut from writer-director Rhys Graham. It is not without its missteps, but ultimately can be forgiven for all of the elements it gets right about growing up in contemporary Australia. While it may be tempting for some to dismiss the film as a shaky coming-of-age cliché, for me the emotional turmoil of that turning point in the lives of teenagers rings true; making this a film well worth seeing, if not with a little patience.
Galore follows the firm friendship of Billie (Ashleigh Cummings) and Laura (Lily Sullivan), who fill the long, hot, empty time of the school holidays with each other’s company. Billie is adventurous and more experienced than Laura, sharing everything including her early sexual experience; but hiding her feelings for Laura’s boyfriend, Danny. The two continue to spend intimate time alone together without Laura’s knowledge; knowing that the revelation of their relationship would be devastating. Yet Billie endures a slow torture as Laura and Danny’s relationship continues to progress. After a long night, Laura and Danny finally consummate their relationship – afterwards, Laura remarks to Billie ‘I like that I finally know what you’ve been talking about.’ The news is wounding to Billie, who begins to act out recklessly.
Complicating this straightforward drama is the arrival of Isaac, an islander boy with an implied history of delinquency. Set up in a backyard caravan by Billie’s mother, he soon becomes involved in the dramas of the teens and attracts the attentions of Laura. Gently narrated through visits to swimming holes, the bush, and the locales of Canberra (known as the ‘bush capital’ of Australia), the bonds between the four protagonists continue to grow as they confront the common issues of transforming from teenagers into adults.
What Galore gets right is a strong feeling, a sentiment that for many of us has boiled away and been forgotten from our teenage years. The dramas that the characters experience are small, summer dramas that ultimately will pass away as they move on to their new lives; but Galore nails the feeling of that moment, where the choices and consequences of the teenagers feel like they will last forever. Most of us, from our distance to the age, know that these issues are not as overwhelming as they seem; but that is with the vantage of experience, of having already passed through the trial of fire that is confronting those adult emotional issues for the first time. The natural, affecting performances of Ashleigh Cummings and Lily Sullivan perfectly capture the temperament of every teenager’s last summer; and their friendship, and intimacy is conveyed through adept direction and close-up cinematography. Similarly, Aliki Matangi as Isaac is outstanding in conveying the pent-up forces that drive his troubled character in a most economical way, as the script lavishes only limited attention on his part.
Graham’s choices in presenting the narrative may not be for all; he lingers on the skin of the teens in an almost exploitative manner, makes exclusive use of golden hours or night scenes, and is sparing with his use of big landscape shots. The use of hand-held shots and variable sound mixing may not appeal either. But I take this as part of the overall feel and point Graham is trying to make in conveying the very nature of those teenage moments, rather than just documenting them. The feeling is claustrophobic at times; the youth are literally more exposed than our adult selves; and everything takes on the mythic proportions of those few magical hours of summer. The threat of the oncoming fires forces the adults of the narrative back into those life or death stakes of teenage turmoil. Taken as a whole, rather than just a collection of the viewer’s filmic prejudices, Galore produces an overall sentiment and effect that is admirable and significant. Graham captures those moments before the characters depart their childhoods, never to return.
Some patience is required; at times the narrative seems to cram in every possible teenage drama, where a modicum of focus and judicious editing would have served the film well. Some scenarios are tired and a little predictable, at points taking on the structure of an after school special. But these are forgiveable missteps; Graham attempts something more ambitious than the usual narrative of teenagers coming to terms, and for the most part it works.
Stepping out at the close of the film, the audience is left with some cheeky images and some careworn thoughts: little boys playing with matches in the underpass, and Billie’s mother counselling ‘you have to know that we are more than just the love we get from people.’ Galore successfully bridges two worlds; reminding us of what it felt like, briefly, to be caught between them.
Rating: Four stars.