The director (pictured right) of the brilliant Australian teen flick, Is This The Real World (which will have a run of special Sydney screening and Q&A events this week), picks the films that have had the greatest life impact upon him.
The independently made debut feature from Melbourne-based writer/director, Martin McKenna, Is This The Real World is a goddamn corker. In the vein of Animal Kingdom, Muriel’s Wedding, and Lantana, Is This The Real World is an upsettingly close and unfiltered look at Australian life: our family dynamics, our adolescent relationships, and our experience with education and authority.
The narrative follows small-town Victorian high school student, Mark Blazey (Sean Keenan from Puberty Blues and Glitch), an intelligent teen who has just tossed away a scholarship to a private school and now finds himself at the local public high school, much to the dismay of his single mum, Anna (Susie Porter), who is struggling with a young daughter, Marlie (Elise MacDougall), and an older son, Jimmy (Matt Colwell aka Australian rap-star, 360), who is on a path back to jail. When Mark falls for Kim (Charlotte Best from Home And Away and Puberty Blues), he tries to escape the various life forces pulling at him. It’s a typically impulsive move, made worse by the fact that Kim’s father (Greg Stone) is Mark’s new high school headmaster.
The performances are all-around exceptional, particularly that of star-on-the-rise, Sean Keenan, who takes you on the not all-together comfortable journey into the mind of a 17-year-old with his piercingly authentic portrayal. Props also have to be given to Susie Porter, who does a stellar job as Anna, a mother on the verge of a huge breakdown with a life full of regrets, and a family situation that she cannot control. Porter brings a delicate intensity to the role, the kind where you can’t be sure if she’s about to hug someone or fly into a rage. Her raw and unpredictable vulnerability is in large part credit to the strength of the script, as McKenna handles his characters with the finesse of an old screenwriting veteran.
While the performances and writing/direction are undeniably the bedrock of the film, the potency of Is This The Real World comes from its artfully nuanced layers. Ellery Ryan’s cinematography is absolutely gorgeous, where rather than adding filters or artificial elements, he draws out and emphasises what is real – and at times too real – in the film’s chilly coastal setting. The soundtrack is yet another glazing that gives the film a great deal of impact and flavour. Sound is arguably the forgotten hero of cinema (think what a Tarantino or Wes Anderson film would be without their scores), and sound designer, Paul Pirola (Wolf Creek 2, The Taking Of Pelham 123), does a truly killer job of adding depth to the film, particularly during its dialogue-free sequences – he knows when to use sound and when to use silence with great accuracy.
This is a big win for McKenna’s first effort, and will surely be a tough act to follow for the promising filmmaker. Is This The Real World comes at you with all kinds of beautiful detail; somehow equal parts simple and complicated, it will deeply affect anyone who grew up in Australia – and probably even those who didn’t.
On the very sad passing of writer/director, Paul Cox, FilmInk reflects on one of Australia’s most passionate, committed, prolific, and deeply personal cinematic voices. Our film industry has lost a true original, and we’re all the poorer for it…