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Hating Alison Ashley

A working-class schoolgirl manufactures dissent when a rich kid arrives in "Hating Alison Ashley," a lightweight but charming comedy about adolescent insecurity. Built around a charismatic central performance from Saskia Burmeister, pic should speak loudly to teens Down Under, where Robin Klein's source novel has been mandatory reading for high schoolers since 1984. Pic opens locally March 17.

With:
With: Saskia Burmeister, Delta Goodrem, Jean Kittson, Richard Carter, Tracey Mann, Craig McLachlan, Rachael Carpani.

A working-class schoolgirl manufactures dissent when a rich kid arrives in “Hating Alison Ashley,” a lightweight but charming comedy about adolescent insecurity. Built around a charismatic central performance from Saskia Burmeister, pic should speak loudly to teens Down Under, where Robin Klein’s source novel has been mandatory reading for high schoolers since 1984. However, film’s unremarkable direction is likely to dampen enthusiasm offshore, though casting of Aussie pop diva Delta Goodrem as title character may assist in territories where she draws a crowd. Pic opens locally March 17.

All dressed up in mismatched ensembles that scream “I’m not like everybody else,” 14-year-old Erica Yurken (Burmeister) is the resident know-it-all at Barringa East High in suburban Melbourne. Her family is also hardly conventional: Her sister thinks she’s a horse and her brother talks to extra-terrestrials. Meanwhile, their single mom, Liz (Tracey Mann), is about to marry her truck-driving b.f., Lennie (Richard Carter).

A melodramatic misfit who wouldn’t have it any other way, Erica escapes into daydreams of movie stardom. She bags writing, directing and starring roles in the summer camp play to kick-start her brilliant career.

Throwing Erica’s world into a spin is new student Alison Ashley (Goodrem), who has the looks and smarts to knock the class brain out of the drama night spotlight. While Erica imagines this is exactly what Alison intends, the reality is just the opposite: The newcomer doesn’t have a mean bone in her body. Erica’s campaign to neutralize her opposition results only in humiliation and a corresponding rise in Alison’s popularity.

Erica’s confessional narration provides a life raft to keep auds rooting for her. It’s here scripter Christine Madafferi nails all the comic confusion and wayward energy of adolescence and renders the protag as a worthwhile investment. Poignant notes on the value of friendship and family are nicely embroidered into film’s finale.

Pic needs all its heightened color scheme and faint glow of fairy tale to help pass off Goodrem (19 at the time) as a 14-year-old, and the thesp’s muted showing makes the leap of faith a large one. Still, it’s Burmeister’s movie — she’s in almost every scene — and her perfectly pitched performance as the teenage dynamo is the knockout that counts.

Major drawback is helmer Geoff Bennett’s straightforward visual approach. Tale cries out for more pictorial pizzazz, and Steve Newman’s cautious camerawork too often drains the energy generated by the spunky protagonist. Cezary Skubiszewski’s bouncy score and a clutch of catchy pop tunes enhance pic’s youth appeal.

Hating Alison Ashley

Australia

Production: A Hoyts release of a Film Finance Corp. Australia presentation of a Brousek-Howatt production, in association with Movie Network, New South Wales Film & Television Office, Australian Children's Television Foundation, Film Victoria. (International sales: Arclight Films, Sydney.) Produced by Elizabeth Howatt-Jackman, John Brousek. Executive producer, Brousek. Directed by Geoff Bennett. Screenplay, Christine Madafferi, based on the novel by Robin Klein.

Crew: Camera (Cinevex, Atlab color), Steve Newman; editor, Suresh Ayyar; music, Cezary Skubiszewski; production designer, Ralph Moser; art director, Lucinda Thomson; costume designer, Paul Warren; sound (Dolby Digital), Andrew Belletty; assistant director, John Clabburn; casting, Anna Bakewell, Lou Mitchell. Reviewed at Fox screening room, Sydney, Dec. 16, 2004. Running time: 102 MIN.

With: With: Saskia Burmeister, Delta Goodrem, Jean Kittson, Richard Carter, Tracey Mann, Craig McLachlan, Rachael Carpani.

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