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Sometimes if you don’t buy what a character does during the first five minutes of a film, it’s impossible to swallow anything else they might do that falls just outside the realm of common sense, like standing buck naked in the snow while your hunky boyfriend drives off in a rage. Somersault‘s 16-year-old lead runs away from home after getting caught kissing her mother’s boyfriend. Why the girl decides to make out with the tattooed lug while her mother is in the house not only strains for logic, but it’s beyond the film’s own limited introspection—it’s simply an excuse to get the catatonic tart out of the house in order to subject her to more horrors. Is there a reason for the things Heidi (Abbie Cornish) does to herself and the people around her? When Joe (Sam Worthington) asks her why she was trying to bone two guys at the same time, she explains, “I didn’t want to be alone.” Aw, shucks! Except you’re liable to agree with Joe when he says something about Heidi being screwed up in the head, not that this is a condition director Cate Shortland is willing to seriously address or diagnose. An exercise in film-school pretense, Somersault prettifies the ugliness of a girl’s sexual experience after she leaves her mother’s nest. Australian critics drooled over the film’s lush cinematography, which color-codes Heidi’s experience in such a way as to suggest the whole film was shot using filters melted down from diaries and music boxes: thrown out of the house, the girl feels blue, and the effects are felt in the film’s color palette; and when she visits a garbage dump, Heidi actually gets to look through—get this—a pair of rose-tainted glasses (!), because, you know, she keeps a stiff upper lip in spite of not having a steady job or place to sleep. Christine Jeff’s Rain similarly indulged in these sorts of metaphoric visual affections, and though both directors seem obsessed with the sensation of violence and sexual danger that underlie fairy tales, Shortland scarcely grapples with these implications; the beautification of her female lead’s bourgeoning sexual identity seems to exist for her benefit only (Heidi is just along for the ride), where Rain‘s aesthetic put-ons seem to actually reflect the boredoms and illusions of its lead character. To Shortland’s credit: She directs actors well, and even if a gay subplot involving Joe and the man he works for seems to come out of the blue (or pink, or purple—it’s impossible to remember the dominant mood-enhancing color scheme of any given shot), she has an eye and ear for the boredom of small-town living. In short: I promise to watch your next film, Cate, if you promise to shoot it in black and white.

Magnolia Pictures
106 min
Cate Shortland
Cate Shortland
Abbie Cornish, Sam Worthington, Lynette Curran, Erik Thomson, Hollie Andrew, Leah Purcell, Olivia Pigeot, Blake Pittman, Nathaniel Dean

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