REVIEW

Ellie and Abbie (and Ellie's Dead Aunt) is a heartwarming Aussie high school drama

Ellie and Abbie (and Ellie's Dead Aunt) (M, 82 minutes)

4 stars

There is no bigger social faux pas among our millennial and centennial sets than to double-tap a post older than three months. Hearting or liking something that far back is proof that you're stalking the other person's socials, that you're digging back into their past finding to more about them, snooping. You may as well hand them a bunch of flowers.

Sophie Henshaw and Julia Billington in Ellie and Abbie (and Ellie's Dead Aunt). Picture: Supplied

Sophie Henshaw and Julia Billington in Ellie and Abbie (and Ellie's Dead Aunt). Picture: Supplied

High school captain Ellie (Sophie Hawkshaw) is working up the courage to ask Abbie (Zoe Terakes) to the school prom. She's moved from chanting reinforcing aphorisms in her bedroom about "putting things out to the universe", has just stopped herself from liking a six-months-old post, but is considering shooting a video message and posting it on her socials.

In response to this, the universe does send her something. Tara (Julia Billington), Ellie's Fairy God Mother, arrives in her bathroom one day to save her from social disgrace. When she was alive, Tara was Ellie's real-life aunt, but now in ghost form she's back to coach Ellie in her tentative steps into the world of relationships without embarrassing herself.

Ellie has just come out to her mother Erica (Marta Dusseldorp), who is not coping. Mum is secretly smoking and feeling sorry for herself, a strange reaction considering mum's best friend Patty (Rachel House) is also a lesbian. A hilarious Uber-driving supportive best-friend lesbian.

It turns out that Ellie's gaydar isn't off, and that Abbie does like Ellie back, but Ellie's sense of self-worth won't let her believe it. Abbie does her best to let Ellie know she'd be receptive to an offer. The flirting is everything teenage romance should be. But all the positive aphorisms in the world can't stop Ellie from making the same dumb relationship missteps everybody else makes.

While mum struggles to come to terms with Ellie's news, it turns out Tara is back for more than helping Ellie put the moves on a pretty girl.

This low-budget Aussie film packs a real wallop.

Marta Dusseldorp is affecting in Ellie and Abbie (and Ellie's Dead Aunt). Picture: Supplied

Marta Dusseldorp is affecting in Ellie and Abbie (and Ellie's Dead Aunt). Picture: Supplied

Writer-director Monica Zanetti pulls it off - its constant energy and charm, its one-two punch of emotion and laughter - with aplomb. She and her producers ensure you don't feel the film's low-budget, investing in crisp cinematography from Calum Stewart that makes the performers luminous and and the neighbourhoods around Sydney's Concord and Oxford Street feel intimate and familiar.

Best among the clever script by Zanetti is the approach to queer and gender issues between the generations. Abbie and Ellie may have grown up in a more supportive generation with queer representation all around them, but that doesn't mean that coming out is easy, and they don't appreciate all of the positive reinforcement from their elders.

But as Dolly says in Steel Magnolias, laughter out of tears is my favourite emotion, and that's the kind of serotonin buzz this film will leave you with.

Zanetti adapted her own 2017 stage play, and she and the producers inventively funded the production, including with crowd-sourcing. David Chapman's score is lifting in the right places, supported by some on-point song selections, the right tone to bring the audience in.

I can see what Ellie sees in Abbie. Zoe Terakes has a natural on-screen charm, as viewers who recognise them from their turn in Wentworth will know. Both Terakes and the warm and engaging Sophie Hawshaw give strong performances, supported by some big-names in the grown-up roles, notably Hunt for the Wilder People actress Rachel House and that wallop I mentioned coming from Marta Dusseldorp.

Small Aussie cinema like this, even if it really deserves it, won't hang around at the cinema for you to take your time thinking about seeing one day. It's a now-or-never proposition. If you'd like to support Queer Aussie representation on screen, or frankly just enjoy a really good movie, make some room in your calendar this weekend.

Canberra viewers will appreciate a number of familiar names in the credits, beginning with the film's Marist College alum producer Brian Cobb.

This story Low-budget Aussie film packs a punch first appeared on The Canberra Times.