A cautionary tale about the importance of welcoming strangers into your community, “Sally Marshall Is Not An Alien” rams home its timeless message. Aimed at a niche audience of prepubescent females, pic has opened across Australia for the school holidays, but modest results are to be expected. Down the track, however, it could become a perennial video attraction for its target audience.
Pip (Helen Neville) is something of a loner. Instead of hanging out with other kids in her Adelaide suburb, she spends her time contemplating the heavens via her telescope, and she doesn’t even encourage the shy attentions of nice boy Ben (Glenn McMillan.) The bullying Rhonnie (Thea Gumbert), who dominates the neighborhood’s 12-year-olds, has it in for Pip.
Then the Marshall family moves in next door. Sally Marshall (Natalie Vansier) is different from the other kids. She speaks with a funny (non-Australian) accent, always wears dark glasses, reads intellectual books and literally hangs upside down at the playground. Her older brother, Wayne (Vince Poletto), is odd, too: He never removes his sinister black biker helmet. Rhonnie proclaims that the Marshalls must be aliens from outer space; the rational Pip poo-poos the idea, and agrees to a bet — she will prove Sally Marshall is not an alien by a certain date, and, if she fails, she’ll surrender her precious telescope to Rhonnie.
In the process of her investigations into the mysterious Marshalls, which involves some moments of mild suspense, Pip and Sally become best friends; but, in the film’s much-telegraphed “surprise” ending, they are tearfully separated again.
In its basic theme, pic recalls Joe Dante’s “The ‘Burbs(1989), which also dealt with a community bothered by “different” neighbors. Pitching the story at such a young age group, however, results in a complete lack of depth and nuance in the screenplay.
This modest tract against xenophobia is also marred by the variable, at times downright awkward, performances of the young actors, who hold center stage for just about all of the film. Technical credits are acceptable.