Hey Hey It's Esther Blueburger:
Coming from the land down under, Esther Blueburger tackles the coming of age comedy from the perspective of a Jewish outcast in a very WASP-y prep school. A few movie-of-the-week plot machinations and one character verging on trite aren't enough to trip this movie up, however, as much of its 100-minute run-time is composed of chirpy, entertaining style, often low-key humor that bubbles along amiably, and Esther's heartfelt relationships which really ring true.
With her Bat Mitzvah fast approaching, Esther (Danielle Catanzariti) is forced to acknowledge her status at her prep academy; no one likes her or really knows whom she is. Esther's mom is more concerned with the Bat Mitzvah menu than anything else, but still wonders why she hasn't received any RSVPs yet. It's because Esther has no friends other than her nerdy twin brother. Rather than turning into a cowed sad sack, Blueburger blithely forces invitations on her classmates in much the same manner as she insinuates herself into a group of tough girls from the neighboring public school. From that group alpha girl Sunni (Whale Rider's Keisha Castle-Hughes) becomes Esther's confidant, tutor and best friend. That's when the fun really begins.
A little bit of tricky searching on the web reveals that some folks think Esther is the best thing to come from down under since Crocodile Dundee. (And this from Australian fans and critics, no less.) I guess that Paul Hogan's knife was a lot bigger than any of us understood, because such comments seem to be damning either Esther Blueburger or all of Australian cinema, with faint praise. Is there really such a dearth of commercially successful Aussie cinema that it's taken almost thirty years to come up with something equal to Dundee? Not to mention the fact that his apparent successor is a gawky schoolgirl? Without the baggage, this stateside critic finds Blueburger to be charming, funny, breezy and a little serious, like director Cathy Randall felt the need to cram a whole lot into the mix. There's something to be said for trying to please everybody, but Randall might also consider simply playing to her strengths.
Firstly, Hey Hey is gorgeous and stylish, it's a cinematographer's movie with lots of nice touches, gauzy sunshine and choreographed dancing schoolgirls. Maybe there's something in Australia that demands its filmmakers have excellent eyes before they can latch on to telling solid, simple stories. That said, this story is a fairly simple one of a teen girl growing up. Though Esther is probably way too self possessed to be a realistic geek and outcast, she and her counterparts stay clear of becoming cartoon characters. However, the relationship between Sunni and her mom, played by Toni Collette, strains credibility. Collette's wanna-be responsible mom is a silly flibbertigibbet who has a cutesy role-reversal relationship with her daughter that reads like something from an After School Special. Throw in a Personal Tragedy and the Thing with the Duck, and you've ultimately got too many elements rattling around. Esther Blueburger has loads of good stuff, especially Esther's realistic relationship with her brother, but seems like it could stand just a bit more focus and refinement.
Esther arrives on international shores in a spiffy 2.35:1 letterboxed presentation, and it looks just brill, with especially lush colors (thanks in no small part to vibrant production design) and a sharp, blemish-free picture. Detail levels are good, and no transfer problems crop up.
English 5.1 Surround Sound Audio is up to snuff, though when the oft-chirpy song elements from the soundtrack crop up, they're a tiny bit more up front in the mix than I'd like. Otherwise, my system didn't detect a spectacularly active 5.1 sound design, but certainly enjoyed a good dynamic range, and dialog all comes through loud and clear - if not a bit hard to understand for these Yankee ears.
Interviews with director Cathy Randall, producer Miriam Stein, and actors Toni Collette, Danielle Catanzariti, and Keisha Castle-Hughes range in length from two-and-a-half minutes to just over four minutes each, with Castle-Hughes getting the longest shot. In Search of Esther is about 20 minutes of BTS goodies with, naturally, a decidedly 'Esther' bent, including the casting process, actor Danielle's transformation into Esther, and lots of other fun stuff. Though constructed in typical fashion, it's a lively, interesting and entertaining featurette, with just slightly too loud music. "The Only One" Music Video runs four minutes, the original Trailer is included, as well as Previews for four other releases, and Closed Captioning.
This Australian coming-of-age tale features some great familial relationships, whimsical humor and a gorgeous look. Its lightness is an asset, yet there are a whole lot of other elements thrown into the mix, including a third act tear jerker that mostly jerks on your suspension of disbelief. Director Cathy Randall's movie hinges on those relationships, some good teen comedy and a lush look, it doesn't need much more than that. Rent It.
- Kurt Dahlke
~ More of Dahlke's DVD Talk reviews here at DVD Talk I'm not just a writer, I paint colorful, modern abstracts, too! Check them out here KurtDahlke.com