The first feature from producer, director, screenwriter and cinematographer Ed Aldridge, “Tan Lines” mixes up the teenage coming-out formula with typical Aussie humor, sexy/romantic elements and absurdist fillips, to mostly bracing effect. Smart, appealing, slightly uneven pic is a natural for the gay fest (and specialty DVD) circuit, with niche theatrical sales possible despite DV lensing.
Sixteen-year-old Midget (Jack Baxter, cast, like several other principal thesps, from real-life skaters and surfers sans prior acting experience) lives in a small coastal town on the outskirts of Sydney. He shares a bed with a mom (heard but never seen) who has implied substance-abuse problems. His paternity is a mystery, as mum seems to have had a lively — possibly professional –sexual history. Midget spends most of his time hanging and surfing with dreadlocked best mate Dan (Curtis Dickson).But the return of Dan’s elder bro Cass (Daniel O’Leary) for an overnight visit — his first in years, timed to coincide with their parents’ holiday absence — stirs Midget’s secret desires. Floppy-haired, buff Cass left four years earlier in the scandalous aftermath of his affair with a still-smitten schoolteacher (Christian Willis). Relations with Dan are strained as a result of that departure. But there’s a sexual tension between Midget and Cass that keeps latter staying longer than he’d intended, especially once it’s been consummated.
Meanwhile, Midget is employed doing part-time “gardening” for Miss Havisham-like spinster McQuillan (Theresa Kompara) and her boy-crazy niece Alice (Lucy Minter). But in truth, he’s expected to mow a lawn of a more pornographic nature under Miss McQ’s perversely etiquette-minded direction.
“Tan Lines” has other oddball, borderline surrealist notions, including the primitive animation of Catholic icons in Cass’ bedroom that scold Midget in subtitled Italian. Curiously, pic’s loose first half works better than the more eventful second, since Aldridge’s sensibility is at its best when it’s most unpredictably quirky.
To his credit, though, “Lines” doesn’t cave in to rote gotta-be-me uplift at the end, staying true to its idiosyncratic p.o.v. in a semi-happy ending that suggests (reasonably enough) that Midget is still too immature to have earned a flat-out happy one.
Low-budget feature shows a considerable command of thesps, milieu and tech limitations. Still, it’s hard not to wish this had been shot on 35mm. Soundtrack boasts impressively diverse tracks by rock trio the Mares, only heard when characters are actually listening to radio or personal stereos.