Hey Hey It's Esther Blueburger
- Directed and written by Cathy Randall
- Starring Danielle Catanzariti, Keisha Castle-Hughes, Toni Collette
- Classification: PG
Hey, hey, it is Esther Blueburger. Again. Yep, Esther goes by many names but they're all the same character, just another square peg trying to fit into the round conformity of high-school life. Which means, of course, that this brand of flick, with its coming-of-age angst, has long become a round conformity itself - the cinematic cliché that documents every adolescent's battle against becoming a cliché.
Here, the setting is Australia and the square peg is diminutive, pig-tailed, bespectacled and, in a secular sort of way, Jewish. Attending a posh private academy, Esther (Danielle Catanzariti) is isolated from prissy classmates at school and distracted parents at home, confined to sharing her twisted sense of humour with her twin brother Jacob. Sometimes, they'll dump a dinner plate of food over their head, salt and pepper the dripping repast, and roar at their send-up of boring domestic routine. Such clever little wags. Still, the two are drifting apart, floating away on different seas of raging hormones, and Esther is in dire need of a friend.
She finds one in a yellow baby duck, rescued from biology class, only to lose her new pal to a lesson in vivisection. Sunni (Keisha Castle-Hughes) proves somewhat more reliable. A smart, punky girl whose mom is a stripper-with-a-heart-of-gold (the ubiquitous Toni Collette), she invites our misfit to cross the tracks, switch uniforms, and join the public school crowd. There, secured within a spreading web of lies, Esther finds acceptance but at the usual price - the loss of her uniquely abnormal self.
How to get it back? Well, this is when the movie, engineered by writer/director Cathy Randall, crosses the tracks itself and goes completely off the rails. Up until now, the clichés have played out to modest yet discernible effect. Catanzariti brings an infectious energy to the title role, Castle-Hughes adds a layer of precocious maturity to a street-wise kid obliged to be her mother's keeper, and there's a sound gag that struck me as a laugh-out-loud hoot. Listen for a very proper girls' choir, conducted by a very proper choir mistress, rehearsing a very proper choral rendition of House of the Rising Sun: "That's risinggg sun, girls, please enunciate!".
But then Randall's script makes a hard right turn away from comedy into awfully sudden and badly contrived tragedy, only to turn back with equal haste when the plot calls for the lightened mood of a resolution. En route, her shooting technique of choice is the overhead shot, which grows precious with repetition but at least gives us a bird's-eye view of the accumulating narrative clutter. Among the debris is the sight of poor Esther getting all literal-minded on us - crossing an actual set of railroad tracks to set herself down beside an actual merry-go-round, there to shed tears as life's carousel continues its crazy whirl. Hey, hey, we get it already.
Don't worry, though. Uplift is just around the corner, where the genre demands that it be. So one more celebration of youth's proud individuality squeezes into its conforming harness, and all's right again in the wonderful world of programmed adolescence.