Somersault October 9, 2015
Cate Shortland’s Somersault is an odd coming-of-age film. Not just because it doesn't bear the sickening quirkiness long-associated with the genre, but also because the coming of age itself is delivered with a twist. The protagonist in question thinks they’re mature enough to become an adult prematurely, but soon begins to discover that the real world is a hell of a lot crueler than the impish teenage universe. Unforgiving and realistic, it is a no-holds-barred film that takes away any seductive sentimentality left behind by Good Will Hunting and trades it for an attitude that comes to the conclusion that no turn is a right turn.
This time around, our Will Hunting is not a brilliant young man but a thoughtful young woman. Heidi (Abbie Cornish), sixteen and aimless, lives a restless life drizzled in meaningless sex and little responsibility — to her, a job at a gas station is a career, not a gateway to higher education. Though considerate and intelligent, she is reckless. Her dangerous spontaneity comes to a head one morning when she is caught kissing her mother’s boyfriend (by her mother, no less).
With their relationship shattered, she heads to an unremarkable town to start life anew, calling a crappy apartment home, calling quick shifts at a nearby minute mart a way to bring home the bacon. Heidi exploits her promiscuousness as a way to take a break from her harsh reality, but she is caught off-guard when she meets Joe (Sam Worthington), a brooding young farmer. She is instantaneously attracted, hopeful that they can begin a relationship. But Joe is having problems of his own, the most prominent being his sexuality. The two’s blossoming courtship can only end in disaster, and they both know it. Yet with their mirroring inner conflicts, their flaws have the potential to heal.
Somersault famously swept the Australian Film Institute Awards back in 2004, winning every trophy it was nominated for, and with its refreshing honesty and nuance, such a fact passes by without much skepticism. It’s one of the most memorable coming-of-age films ever made, as few are so accepting that not every person’s growing up has to be a likable tale meant to tickle one’s bouts of nostalgia. Maybe Sixteen Candles is a more diverting watch, but sometimes, a film as bullshitless as Somersault is needed, direct and emotionally wrenching enough to speak on a higher level than pure escapism. Cornish and Worthington make for an unconventional couple that authentically feels like kids lost in the real world rather than attractive twenty-somethings playing kids lost in the real world. Shortland passionately paints on a gritty canvas.
But Somersault’s biggest asset is Cornish, who has since gone on to appear in major Hollywood films (Limitless, RoboCop). Only 20 during its conception, she carries a rare magnetism usually found in European art-house staples (à la Isild Le Besco, Brigitte Bardot) Her going about even the simplest of an activity is enthralling, her face a map of expression impossible to decipher. Heidi is a girl without an ounce of control in her life; Cornish makes the unpredictability thrilling. It’s a gift that Somersault doesn’t have a problem turning the ordinary into something extraordinary