Flirting April 28, 2015
A lake separates the male and female dormitories of Australia’s rural St. Albans boarding school, but water can hardly part the flirtatious musk hovering in the air. It’s 1965, and love, fear, sexual desire, and whole-hearted awkwardness is radiating from the bodies of the students. Headmasters stalk the hallways, looking for a passerby to whip; pangs are repressed in favor of mild-mannered behavior. But as the students age, their romances flicker into a sudden burst of unbridled flame. Sooner or later, they have to leave their childhood fears behind — upcoming is adulthood.
Flirting is a lyrical snapshot of the inelegant but lilting time in which innocence washes away and is replaced with uncomfortable, yet exciting, verisimilitude. It’s a high school movie, but it can hardly be compared to the wispy transparency of its many clichéd rivals. It’s not a one-note Weird Science pile or a sardonic Mean Girls; it’s more akin to The Breakfast Club, considering the thoughts and decisions of young adults and finding the beauty in their successes, in their flaws. Some teenagers are one-track minded and beastly, but more are attentive. Flirting casts the immature rascals aside and puts a spotlight on the youths who contemplate the outcome of each and every decision. In that respect, the film is better because, for once, the youngsters once characterized by Anthony Michael Hall and Shirley Temple suddenly become introspective humans, not cartoons.
Danny Embling (Noah Taylor) is a gangly 17-year-old with a stutter to get over. His head is too big for his body, his body is too small for his head, and the words which come out of his mouth don’t sound as sophisticated as he would like them to. But he is a rebel, knowing that real-life mistakes aren’t followed by an authoritative whipping and that math doesn’t really matter in the long run. He idolizes Satre not only for his work but also for his poise, and he longs to break free from St. Albans so he can fully realize his many potentials.
Thadiwe Adjewa (Thandie Newton), the exotic Ugandan-Kenyan-British daughter of a diplomat, has just arrived on the grounds, inadvertently inviting unwanted scrutiny from her female classmates. She is remarkably intelligent and effortlessly beautiful — perhaps she intimidates the opposite sex, fuels the jealousy of her gawky roommates. When Danny and Thandiwe lock eyes at a rugby game one day, a spark ignites. His perceptive aura matches her cerebral wit — infatuation thrives. It doesn’t take long before a mutual adoration erupts. They’ve never felt love like this before, and they’re going to make it count for the few months they have together.
The majority of teen movies believe they have to be self-deprecatingly funny or overly simple to be successful, completely unaware that purity is ultimately more winning than materialistic quotability. Teenagers are fascinating creatures, phenomena of emotion, but films tend to liken them as targets of satire.
A shame. A movie like Flirting vibrates with poignancy; in the process, I connected with its sensitive characters and, eventually, built enough of a relationship with them to a point where I felt the need to compare their hesitations and choices to my very own life. Duigan watches them move and applies their burgeoning ideals to even the hardest of moments; scenes, like the closing one (in which Danny and Thandiwe spend their last night together in a local hotel in order to properly say goodbye), defy expectations through their mannered receptiveness.
A film like Flirting is easy to hold close to the heart because its conflicts have been felt by all. It’s touching, it’s romantic, it’s witty — it ripples with pensive quiet. It doesn’t just flirt with brilliance; it is brilliant, whether it knows it or not. (It also made stars out of Newton and Nicole Kidman, and kickstarted the careers of Taylor and Naomi Watts.) A