20 April 2015 | Sergeant_Tibbs
A mixed bag, but enough resonates to enjoy it.
First off, Kurt Cobain has very little to do with About A Girl. He gets a passing mention, along with other 27 Club members Jimi Hendrix and Amy Winehouse. Claiming its protagonist Charleen is Cobain's biggest fan in the logline is just a marketing ploy to get people to watch the film – but it doesn't need those tricks. Music does have its small part, with not-too- expensive/recognisable English language rock making much of the soundtrack, though it's a little too twee for grunge. That's not the tone About A Girl is going for.
Charleen, played by Jasna Fritzi Bauer, is a 15 year old girl who attempts suicide to skip the pains of growing up. While she quickly regrets and reforms, she finds getting life to feel normal again more difficult than she imagined. Living in a full house with her mother, little brother, deadbeat dad, kooky grandmother, and her mother's boyfriend who happens to be her schoolteacher – it's a dysfunctional family film. But for someone who's ostensibly depressed, the film shows that Charleen has a large amount of facets to her life.
A depressed person is usually blind to this love that surrounds them. But this is not a film about depression. This is about lifting us free from those cynical thoughts. And it does quite a decent job. There are tragedies and hardships, but above all it's an identifiable feel-good film. We can all admit as teenagers at our most dramatic we considered death to be an easy and quicker way out. Here it's sincere without resorting to cheap sentiment, if sometimes indulging in cheap pleasure.
The heart of the film is the relationship between mother, played by Heike Makatsch, and daughter. There's a compassion and understanding between them that's really refreshing. It's a shame the film tries to stuff itself too much with the relationships between Charleen and her family, her best friend who's her polar opposite, a typical nerd who becomes a love interest, her psychiatrist, and so on.
Some are subversions of their respective archetypes, in particular the best friend once she's developed, but the effort isn't spread to the entire ensemble as many are much lazier clichés. Too many of these fringe relationships add too little, or just don't click in an engaging way. It feels like it's ticking boxes to cover ground. That screen time could have been better used to focus on the mother. It admits, life is hard in the face of mortality, and it adds that the teenage days do matter.
Bauer is a particular highlight in the cast, giving Charleen a key maturity that makes her an engaging character. It's surprising yet unsurprising to learn that she's playing a character 10 years her junior. She has a sardonic wit that could really grind delivered by anyone else but her comic timing is sharp enough to make it work. There are some contrivances in the acting from the cast however, with characters reacting to things just because the script says though. That's more a fault with Mark Monheim's focus and direction.
However, the film has engaging pacing and vibrant photography, including a frequent use of crane work to make it especially cinematic. It comes alive with dynamic Mitty-eque fantasy sequences which may be at an excess but they entertain at least. The montages may be ill- advised as too much drama unfolds silently. About A Girl is a mixed bag, but its honest compassion to teen angst resonates strong enough to overcome its weakest points."
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