I know that I’m probably sound like a broken record once for saying this since I’ve said this many times in the past: I’m big fan of Australian films. Not because they are made in my home country, I genuinely do believe that the Australian film industry has made some truly great and quality films over the pass couple of years. The main problem being that most Aussie audiences don’t really go out of their way to see them (although that changed in 2015, which one of biggest years both commercially and critically for Aussie films). Any time one is being released, I always try go out to see them no matter what. One film in particular is the new Aussie independently made teen drama IS THIS THE REAL WORLD. So what did I think of it? Read on and find out!
The film tells the story of Mark Blazey (Sean Keenan), a 17-year-old teenager who after being kicked out a private school for bad behaviour. Mark’s mother Anna (Susie Porter) enrols him in the local high school back in his home town but because of his reputation, he instantly becomes an outsider in his new school. Especially with Principal Rickard (Greg Stone), who makes it his personal mission to make Mark’s life a living hell. Also Mark’s home life isn’t any better as his family is slowly falling apart with many problems including with the news that his older brother Jimmy (Matt ‘360’ Colwell) may be heading back to jail. When Mark falls into a relationship with Principal Rickard’s daughter Kim (Charlotte Best), he organises a plan with her that they leave town for good and get away from the problems in their lives. However Mark soon realises that it isn’t as easy as he thought it would be.
One of the reasons was very intrigued in IS THIS THE REAL WORLD is that it has been quite a while since we’ve had an Aussie film that’s about teen or high school characters. While there a lot of shows on Aussie TV that centre around them, films were teens have are the focus have been few and far between (the only recent examples over the pass decade I can think of are TOMORROW WHEN THE WAR BEGAN, THE BLACK BALLOON and LOOKING FOR ALIBRANDI). Which is a shame because it’s a sub-genre of film that I think that a lot of people would relate to on some level. Even though I finished high school over 15 years ago, I still remember vividly all the ups and downs that I experienced during that stage in my life. So I’m always interested in seeing a film that delves into teenage life in an honest way. Was the film able to succeed in doing that? In some ways it did. I must admit that while don’t think it’s a particularly unique or original teen film in any way, I thought that it was still both a decent and engaging one nonetheless. First time writer/director Martin McKenna (who worked as writer on Aussie TV shows like NEIGHBORS, ALL SAINTS, STINGERS and PACKED TO THE RAFTERS) did quite a good job at giving us a believable portrayal of modern teen life. McKenna’s direction is confidentially done and his script authenticity captures the struggles what it was like being that young without it ever feeling too contrived or emotionally hokey (not just in what the character is going through in at high school, but also what’s going on with his home life as well). While McKenna’s work behind the scenes was pretty solid, what made this film work for me the most was the performances from the cast.
Sean Keenan (who is best known for playing the title character in the hit kids TV show LOCKIE LEONARD) did a truly great job in the lead role as ‘Mark’. In any other hands the character could have easily have just come across as an annoyingly angst-filled teenager, but Keenan brought a lot of depth to role that made ‘Mark’ more compelling as a character. We feel so much for this kid and that we can relate to all the hardships that he’s going through in the film. It also helps that Keenan is backed by a pretty solid supporting cast as well. While Susie Porter is given a stock mum role, she makes the most of it and does give the character some layers that don’t make her too much a cliché. Julia Blake, Charlotte Best, Elise MacDougall and surprisingly Aussie rapper Matt ‘360’ Colwell were all strong as well. Also Murray Jamison’s score was really moving and the cinematography by Ellery Ryan was visually stylish. In terms negatives while I did think it was a pretty solid film overall, I didn’t feel like it brought anything new to the table that haven’t seen many times before in other teen films. On a script level it would have been good if the film-makers brought a little something unique to it so that it would have stood out more compared to other ones that are out there. Plus I felt that some aspects of the script could have been delved into much more ’cause some of it came across as being a bit underdeveloped to me. One aspect in particular that I didn’t really like the sub-plot between the character of “Mark” and his antagonistic relationship with “Principal Rickard” (Greg Stone). Compared to the rest of the film which was both honest and believable, this sub-plot felt like it was out of a completely different film and I didn’t buy it at all. Stone does the best with what he can with the role but the way the character is written and portrayed, he just comes across as two-dimensional monster who has a very thin motivation for his dislike of “Mark”. All the things that “Principal Rickard” does to “Mark” in school is so unbelievable and far-fetched, that there is no possible way that he could get away with anything he does without getting arrested (in one scene he shockingly psychically assaults “Mark” in his office for no real reason at all). It’s stuff like that really took out of the film. Also I felt that some members of the supporting cast weren’t really given much to do with their roles (Julia Blake in particular was a bit underused).
Overall while IS THIS THE REAL WORLD doesn’t really offer anything new in comparison to other teen films we’ve seen, writer/director Martin McKenna’s debut is still a solid film from that’s both well acted and emotionally honest. It’s not a film that’s going to change your life but it’s one that I think on some level will resonant with a lot of people. If you like teen films that approach their characters in a real and authentic way, I say that it’s worth a watch.
IS THIS THE REAL WORLD will be released in limited selective theatres around Australia on June 2nd.
Review written by Bede Jermyn