Tag Archives: Bruce Beresford

Puberty Blues (1981)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Girls can surf too!

Debbie and Sue (Nell Schofield, Jad Capelja) are best friends attending high school in the south suburbs of Sydney. They desperately want to fit-in with the surfer group, but find that this means being pressured into having sex and experimenting with drugs and alcohol that starts to take its toll on both their grades and family life. When Debbie thinks she’s gotten pregnant by Gary (Geoff Rhoe) and he responds with indifference she realizes that the surfers aren’t as cool as she thought and pledges to become more independent by trying to do some surfing of her own, which she is told ‘girls can’t do’.

The film is based on the novel by Gabrielle Carey and Kathy Lette who became best friends at age 12 and at 16 began writing stories based on their high school experiences. While attending a writer’s workshop they met Margaret Kelly who worked as a writer in television and was impressed with the girl’s output. She got their stories optioned into a screenplay while the girls went on to write a weekly newspaper column under the byline of The Salami Sisters and their stories were eventually published into a novel. The big change between the movie and the novel is that in the book the girls were only 13 while in the movie it gets upped to 16 since that was Australia’s age of consent.

Director Bruce Beresford ends up tearing away the mystique from teen life in much the same way that he did to suburbia in Don’s Party, which leaves the viewer with a far more caustic take on the high school experience than the Hollywood version, which tends to play up the teen scene like it’s just one big raucous party. Here the cool kids are vapid, crass creatures who are unable to hold any type of interesting conversation. Their parties are lifeless affairs where they aimlessly sit around and get drunk because they have nothing better to do while the sex is shown to be an unpleasant experience for the girls who get pressured into doing it before they’re ready and leave feeling used afterwards.

This was more the way I remembered high school being and I was impressed with the film’s honesty, but the pace is too leisurely and not enough happens. There is some drama when Debbie thinks she is pregnant, but it takes an entire hour just to get there and a comical segment dealing with a goofy fight amongst the surfers, which was not in the book, is completely unnecessary.

The film though does have some funny bits including a scene where Debra brings her boyfriend Bruce (Jay Hackett) over to meet her parents (Kirrilly Nolan, Alan Cassell) as well as the shots showing the interior and exterior of Bruce’s van. This though gets coupled with an uncomfortable moment dealing with a homely girl (Tina Robinson Hansen) who gets tricked into getting into the guy’s van where she is forced into a gang bang before being coldly thrown onto the curb afterwards.

The best part is the ending where the girls grow in confidence and become unafraid at challenging the status quo. Seeing the shocked expressions  of the cool kids as they watch the girls get on surf boards for the first time and succeed at something they were told only guys could do is a treat and makes the rest of the film worth sitting through.

Many years later this movie spawned a TV-series as well as a special that aired in 2012 on Australian TV where Nell Schofield traveled back to the locations where the film was made. Unfortunately her costar Jad Capelja was not present as she had already killed herself in 2010 after spending years battling drug addiction and mental illness.

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My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: December 10, 1981

Runtime: 1Hour 27Minutes

Rated R

Director: Bruce Beresford

Studio: Roadshow Film Distributors

Available: VHS, DVD (Pal Region 0), Blu-ray (Region B/2)

Don’s Party (1976)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10        

4-Word Review: This party gets wild.

It’s October 25, 1969 and the election for Australian Prime Minister is being broadcast all over the nation. Don Henderson (John Hargreaves) is a Sydney suburbanite hoping that the Labor Party will unseat the incumbent Liberal one and invites his friends over to his home to watch the results. Things start out cordial at first, but as the night wears on and the alcohol takes its toll it heats up. Sexual escapades, arguments and fistfights breakout as the veil of civility comes off and their true selves come out.

This is playwright David Williamson’s most famous work and one that was not only a giant hit in his homeland, but has achieved worldwide acclaim. What I loved about the movie and what makes it so funny is that it cuts out the pretense and shows people as they really are while becoming a scathing indictment on suburbia. Most movies tend to pullback and sanitize things, but this one takes the opposite approach with a crude, in-your-face style that pokes holes at every level of suburban lifestyle that is refreshingly honest and totally accurate. The characters are excessively crass and there’s an abundance of sex and nudity, but sprinkled with a definite grain of truth that makes it more revealing about human nature than shocking.

An actual house was used for the setting, which helps avoid the static feeling and director Bruce Beresford does a good job of taking advantage of all the different rooms in the place and uses a variety of camera angles and shots to give it a nice visual flow. The performances are unilaterally superb and the actors appear genuinely intoxicated making the viewer feel drunk with them as they watch them down one beer after another.

The film’s drawback is that the characters lose their inhibitions too quickly and behave in an unnaturally aggressive way right from the start. It would’ve been more fun had they been overtly civil at the beginning only to watch it slowly deteriorate as the film progresses. There are also a few scenes where the background music is too loud and it’s impossible to hear what the characters are saying, which makes this otherwise slick production come off as a bit amateurish.

I first saw this movie back when I was in college and at the time I just didn’t get it. It seemed excessively profane without any redeeming qualities and filled with characters who were hateful and crude, but then I saw it years later after I’d lived in suburbia and become middle-aged it all suddenly made sense. In fact it made a little too much sense as the message it conveys and portrait it creates is not a pleasant one, but I admire the filmmakers for having the tenacity to bring it to light without compromise or hesitation.

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My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: November 10, 1976

Runtime: 1Hour 30Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Bruce Beresford

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD