“The Heartbreak Kid,” which has no connection with Elaine May’s 1972 pic of the same title, has major box office potential in Australia, where it should click with teens as well as their parents. And there are decent possibilities in art-house cinemas in other territories for this warm-hearted, liberating love story, which opens the Sydney Film Festival on June 11.
Set in the ethnically mixed suburbs of Melbourne, pic establishes Claudia Karvan as 22-year-old Christina, a well-educated Greek-Australian with wealthy parents. She’s just become engaged to the upwardly mobile Dimitri (Steve Bastoni), who plans to enter local politics as a way of enhancing his business interests. He’s the type who talks on his mobile phone while undressing for some sex.
Just embarking on a teaching career, Christina has been assigned to a rowdy high school in a working-class area. At the school there’s a conflict between the racist sports master (William McInnes), who’s only interested in coaching boys willing to play Australian rules rugby, and those students who prefer soccer. Christina sides with the latter group, and especially spunky 17-year-old Nick (Alex Dimitriades); she agrees to coach the soccer team herself, until Nick’s father (Nico Lathouris), who once played for Greece, steps in to take over.
Just when it seems that the film is going to be about rivalry between the two different sports teams, the main subject emerges: Nick makes it clear that he has the hots for his teacher, and she gradually responds, eventually borrowing her girlfriend’s apartment for illicit afternoon trysts.
Inevitably the secret gets out, and Christina finds herself in trouble at school and with her shocked parents and outraged fiance. It’s the way she resolves her dilemma that makes the film so honest and likable.
“Kid” started life as a stage play, though you’d never guess it, thanks to the skillful adaptation of playwright Richard Barrett and director Michael Jenkins. Jenkins, whose last film was the Bryan Brown comedy “Sweet Talker,” has done by far his best work to date this time around, aided by fine work from cinematographer Nino Martinetti, who hitherto has worked almost exclusively on features for Paul Cox.
Karvan, effective in the Cannes competing entry “Broken Highway,” plays her role with distinction, capturing the moral dilemma of the young teacher who’s faced with the choice between a secure but dull marriage in the future or an unwise, ardent relationship in the present. Dimitriades, who has never acted before, is a natural find as her passionate young lover, while Steve Bastoni avoids turning the role of the conservative fiance into a caricature. As Karvan’s girlfriend, Doris Younane is outstanding, bringing natural comic talent to each of her scenes.
The film’s B.O. success Down Under will no doubt be enhanced by a shrewd choice of contemporary songs and music. The compact running time is another asset.
Several scenes are spoken in Greek, translated in English subtitles. The film presents a vision of a multicultural Australia rarely captured in feature films.