Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5

dir Shannon Murphy
scr Rita Kalnejais
prd Alex White
with Eliza Scanlen, Toby Wallace, Essie Davis, Ben Mendelsohn, Emily Barclay, Eugene Gilfedder, Zack Grech, Edward Lau, Georgina Symes, Andrea Demetriades, Charles Grounds, Arka Das
release UK Oct.19 lff,
US Oct.19 hiff
19/Australia 1h58

davis mendelsohn barclay
london film fest

scanlen and wallace
Strikingly well-acted, and directed by Shannon Murphy with a quirky attention to detail, this unusual comedy-drama has particularly vivid characters and a story that's easy to engage with. Although it cuts rather close to the edge of melodrama in the way the narrative contrives to push people together and apart. Based on a play, its dialog is vivid enough to provoke unexpected emotions while delivering the obvious message.
In her mid-teens, suburban Sydney schoolgirl Milla (Scanlen) is on the verge of suicide when 23-year-old Moses (Wallace) saves her, simply by pushing her out of the comfort zone created by her parents Henry and Anna (Mendelsohn and Davis). They're not happy to have this tattooed young man around their daughter, but Milla is clearly smitten. And when her cancer relapses, Milla begins to rely on Moses to provide a more earthy response than her parents can offer. Especially as they have issues of their own, mainly due to psychiatrist Henry's access to mood-altering drugs.
Each of the central characters is particularly vivid, including neighbour Toby (Barclay), heavily pregnant and still smoking ("The internet says it's not dangerous"). When she's in the street shouting for her dog Henry, Milla's dad is obviously hearing a very different call. And Anna has a past with Milla's violin teacher Gidon (Gilfedder), whose curious new young pupil (Lau) shows promise. These people, plus Moses' little brother Isaac (Grech), form a sort of makeshift extended family around Milla that feels artificial, a literary device that perhaps unintentionally lampoons how communities coalesce.

Thankfully, the actors bring details to their roles that imply much wider exterior lives. In the focal role, Scanlen has a steely charisma that's infectious. Milla is an intelligent, quick-witted young woman whose experiences have made her wiser than her parents. Mendelsohn and Davis are wonderful, caring but clueless, oblivious to how their own problems are mangling their perception of their daughter. And Wallace is likeably free from constraints as a loose, relentlessly positive young man everyone sees as a loser.

Over the course of the story, everyone learns to live life fully, celebrating what they have today rather than what they expected. This important lesson is refreshingly delivered in a narrative that's enjoyably scrappy, digging beneath surfaces to see things from new points of view. There are some tendencies to drift closely to sentimentality, but Murphy holds her nerve, adding visual twists to the dialog-based script to force the audience to rethink everything we hear.

cert 15 themes, language, sexuality 5.Oct.19 lff

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© 2019 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall