A correction was made to this review on August 3, 2003.
The chance meeting of two stressed-out, romantically vulnerable twentysomethings initiates this raw examination of life in the emotional outer limits. New Zealand-born, Sydney-based director Paul Middleditch’s Dogma-style approach to his second feature occasionally veers toward the indulgent but is rescued by strong performances and the integrity of its messages about love and truth. Pic will struggle to find wide commercial acceptance but can look forward to a substantial fest run, and theatrical distribution in selected urban venues is not out of the question.
Middleditch and main cast members shared living quarters while developing screenplay months before lensing started. Test scenes were shot on mini DV and shaped into final draft with gaps left for on-set improv during the six-day production shoot. Result is high velocity drama.
Jazz singer Tia (Olivia Pigeot) runs down a road beneath the Sydney Harbor Bridge, cursing the junkies who’ve just stolen her handbag. Bobby (Teo Gebert), an advertising exec who’s been living in his car and hiding from cops who caught him driving drunk, crawls out of the rock face above the bridge.
Tempestuous passion erupts when the couple retires to a local pub, as verbal barbs quickly escalate to fast and furious sex in an alley. Soon, full-tilt sexual obsession finds the duo making it whenever Tia’s unseen husband is away. After a chance meeting between Tia and her old school friend Phaedra (Susan Prior), a plain Jane who works in a florist shop and lives alone in the outer suburb of their childhoods, Girl talk opens up doubts about Tia’s apparently exciting and successful life, and events come to a head when a thwarted sexual encounter between Phaedra and Bobby makes everyone’s secrets and lies unsustainable.
Under Middleditch’s careful guidance, the cast excels at stripping away the characters’ protective shields. Of particular note is Prior’s Phaedra, who shifts quickly between deep depression and boundless optimism.In a couple of improvisational scenes, the actors appear to be awkwardly reaching for words. Doubtless, ultra-tight shooting schedule played a part in creating minor potholes in an otherwise powerful and convincingly staged three-hander, which benefits from the well-judged injections of painfully funny observations about human nature at its best and worst. Tone and urgency of pic is enhanced by d.p. Steve Mason’s robust hand-held photography and the use of bleach bypass processing to create gritty textures in synch with subject matter. Claire Jordan’s pacey, violin-led score contributes well to the overall effect, though it’s allowed to dominate unnecessarily in some spots. Rest of tech work is solid.