High school isn’t an easy time for any teen. Your hormones are going wild, you’re surrounded by other teens, and you’re struggling to figure out who you are and what you want to do with your life. When you add onto that discovering that you’re queer things can be even tougher. And this is precisely what happens to honours student Ellie (Sophie Hawkshaw) in the delightful and moving Australian comedy from first time writer director Monica Zanetti.
Ellie is a perfect student. She’s getting top marks in her classes, she’s school captain, and she’s regularly taking part in extra curricular activities. However, with the school formal fast approaching she’s worried about how she’s going to invite the person she really wants to go with, fellow classmate Abbie, played wonderfully by non-binary actor Zoe Terakes.
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After failing to work up the nerve to talk to Abbie face to face, Ellie admits to her mother that she’s gay, and wants to go to the formal with another girl. Whilst this news seems to surprise her mother Ellie is even more surprised to come face to face with her aunt Tara (Julia Billington), who died before Ellie was even born. You see, Tara is Ellie’s ‘fairy’ godmother, a deceased queer relative who’s come to help guide Ellie through the trials of coming out as gay. With her ghostly aunt’s advice, Ellie sets out to talk to the girl she likes.
Ellie & Abbie (And Ellie’s Dead Aunt) is quite an odd film, but brilliantly so. It feels like the kind of film that could only be made in Australia, and is suffused with an air of whimsy and weirdness that Australian entertainment does so well. It has a ton of heart to it, it never takes itself too seriously, and it covers some pretty important and shocking things, all whilst throwing in the occasional c-bomb too.
What makes the film really good is the fact that it’s more than just two queer teens coming to admit their feelings for each other, albeit with some ghostly help. Even though that concept alone is enough to carry the film, the audience gets a second plot where we get to discover what actually happened to Tara, and why it causes her mother to worry so much for her daughter when she comes out. It goes into the historical struggle that queer people had to face, and how much was fought for for teens like Ellie and Abbie to be able to be themselves.
This story interweaves into the main narrative, and helps to add further wrinkles into the teens’ stories. It also gives the older cast members a chance to shine. Ellie’s mother, played by Marta Dusseldrop, and her ‘aunt’ Patty, played by Thor: Ragnarok actor Rachel House, are wonderful additions to the cast, and some of the best moments in the film involve their interactions with each other and Ellie. There’s one particular moment between Ellie and her mother which might be the stand-out moment of the film, and proved to be quite emotional too.
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That being said, it doesn’t mean that the younger cast members aren’t given a lot to do. Sophie Hawkshaw really carries this film, as the majority of the scenes follow Ellie, and it’s through her decisions that the majority of the plot is driven. Hawkshaw is wonderful as a nervous, yet cheerily outgoing young woman; a teen who takes self affirmation a little too much to heart and believes that simply willing something to happen enough means that she’ll get it. She has an odd mixture of vulnerability and positiveness that she makes believable. Equally, Zoe Terakes is great as Abbie, the focus of Ellie’s affections, and as we learn more about them we see that their easygoing exterior is hiding a lot more than we first thought, and Terakes manages to bring a lot of depth to their performance.
Whilst Ellie & Abbie (And Ellie’s Dead Aunt) is first and foremost a romantic comedy, and a very good one at that, it’s also a film about the queer community; the struggles we’ve had in the past and the ones faced by the new generations. It’s a film about having the bravery to strive for the things you want, and to never back down in the face of adversity.
Ellie & Abbie (And Ellie’s Dead Aunt) is out in UK cinemas on 11th June, and on DVD and Digital from 19th July.