2 December 1999 | DeeNine-2
Superior coming of age from down under
(Note: Over 500 of my movie reviews are now available in my book "Cut to the Chaise Lounge or I Can't Believe I Swallowed the Remote!" Get it at Amazon.)
Don't let the title fool you. Although this is one of the sweetest movies you'll ever see, it is no beach blanket bingo for bimbos. This is an Aussie story of teen love set in 1965, heroic as only teens can play it. It is fun to watch, authentic and original at the same time, a coming of age flick in the English boarding school tradition of "Dead Poet's Society" (1989) and "A Separate Peace" (the novel, not the so-so movie). Noah Taylor stars as Danny Embling, an outsider who reads Sartre and Camus while satirizing the school's empty traditions. Across the lake is the girl's school where Thandiwe Adjewa (Thandie Newton), daughter of the Ugandan ambassador, is learning to meld with the Aussie pale faces, including a gifted pre-Hollywood Nicole Kidman.
Thandie Newton and Noah Taylor, as beautifully directed by John Duigan, are the reasons this film is so good. She has a fearless integrity about her that overcomes the prejudices of her school mates. He is wise and brave at a hundred and twenty pounds. She too is ultra sophisticated. She even met Sartre. This is a story about the love between two outsiders who, with their strength of character win over not only their classmates, but the audience as well. Imagine teenagers as witty and poised as say Eartha Kitt and Gore Vidal, and you get a hint of how it's played.
Nicole Kidman as the snobby Nicola Radcliffe (the name says it all) manages a subtle supporting role with a diamond-in-the-rough kind of charm and just the right touch of on-screen growth. The scene where she shares her stash of vodka (or perhaps a clear fruit liquor) with Thandiwe Adjewa is beautifully turned by Director John Duigan. Also excellent is the hotel scene where the adults are revealed as intrusive in the extreme. I like Danny Embling's line as he deadpans to a re-robing Thandiwe, "They're all funny, aren't they?" Yes, those adults are a little peculiar.
This is not unflawed, however. The ending, despite the rousing music, seemed a bland washout, leaving us with a sense of disappointment. And I thought the first love scene with the two "touching" was a little unreal. I mean he might have kissed her! There's a limit to how great a coming of age, boarding school movie can be, especially when the adults have only scarecrow parts. Nonetheless "Flirting" is a confectioner's delight, and one of the best coming of age movies I've ever seen.