April 17, 2011

"Looking for Alibrandi", Looking for the Eye Candy

Pia Miranda faces off with Anthony LaPaglia in Looking for Alibrandi.

Looking for Alibrandi, Melina Marchetti's beloved 1992 coming-of-age novel about a 17-year-old Italian-Australian girl, is a staple in Australian schools. The book follows Josephine, the smart, outspoken protagonist through her final year of school as she comes to terms with her illegitimacy, her Italian roots, her friendships, and her first serious relationship. Marchetti renders her characters with absolute sincerity and carefully tackles issues such as racism, religion, depression, and social class, giving us a vivid portrait of Australia in the early 90s. 

Looking for AlibrandiLooking for Alibrandi

A film adaptation was released in 2000, but sadly retained none of the novel's nuance and careful characterization. Ironically, the screenplay was penned by Marchetti herself, and she even won an Australian Film Institue award for her work. (The film received a slew of other awards as well.) Yet, the film makes the fatal (rookie?) mistake of turning the book’s first-person narrative into a voiceover, clumsily hammering home what could have been expressed through the performances. I blanched as the protagonist-narrator started announcing lines such as ("This might be where I come from but do I really belong here?" "I have go to get out of here.") not two minutes into the film.

Pia Miranda, perfecting the teenage eye roll.

The performances also suffer from the blunt storytelling, and the characters seem to go from one emotional state to the other without the scenes to sufficiently explain them. Josie is portrayed by Pia Miranda, who was 27 (!) at the time of filming. She looks at home playing a teenager and pulls off her character's spunky, frustrated side, but fails to display any of the restless intelligence that gives her the aforementioned spunk. Like too many other teen films and TV films, we can really only take the script's word that this is a smart girl.

Matthew Newton as John Barton, a well-to-do politician's son.

Kick Gurry as Jacob Coote, the working-class school president.

But I had a bigger issue with the casting of Kick Gurry and Matthew Newton as Jacob Coote and John Barton, respectively. As polar opposites who are both drawn to Josie, the two boys play crucial roles in the story. I expect I was not the only person who was left disappointed when the two made their appearance. This isn't an escapist teen comedy, like say, Angus, Thongs, and Perfect Snogging, in which the 15-year-old protagonist snags a teenaged Aaron Johnson (Nowhere Boy, Kick-Ass) in the end. But as the romantic interest (Gurry) and the untouchable good guy (Newton), it would make sense for the charactes to be physically appealing. What kind of eye candy is this?

Matthew Newton as John Barton.

 Kick Gurry as Jacob Coote.

My desire to dissect the film more or less fizzled after I got wind of these two. I could have forgiven the annoying voiceover and clumsy story development, but without aesthetic pleasure, the redeeming factor, there was just too little to go on.

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