Somersault (2004)

Genres - Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Coming-of-Age, Psychological Drama  |   Release Date - Oct 28, 2005 (USA - Limited)  |   Run Time - 105 min.  |   Countries - Australia  |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Josh Ralske

On its surface, Cate Shortland's quietly mesmerizing feature debut, Somersault, wouldn't seem to bring much originality to the troubled-teenage-girl-coming-of-age subgenre. It has all the requisite plot points and stock characters -- the sullen, handsome romantic interest, just smart enough to be a misfit; his obnoxious buddy; the kindly older woman whose own sad past brings out her compassion toward the wayward lass; the outsider (here gay) who returns to the Podunk setting with a wiser perspective. Then there's the girl herself, impossibly gorgeous and seemingly unable to control her budding sexuality, which is just a pragmatic front for her essential guilelessness. A plot synopsis and character breakdown reveal little of the movie's considerable visual beauty and its raw emotional honesty. The film falters more than once in its plotting, resolving a couple of scenes a bit too neatly, and having characters speak aloud what real people probably would not, but it contains several startling, brilliant moments that bring its emotional and visual content together with tremendous clarity and power. The film's best moments are subtle, tactile, and gestural. Shortland and cinematographer Robert Humphreys use the frigid setting of Lake Jindabyne brilliantly, exemplified by a shot of Joe (Sam Worthington) using a bucket of hot water to melt the ice on his windshield, or in Heidi's (Abbie Cornish) viscerally pained, wordless reaction to a friend's betrayal. These seemingly simple choices amply demonstrate Shortland's prodigious talent for telling her story visually, and together with strong performances from her cast, particularly Cornish, enable the film to transcend its occasional lapses into clich├ęs. Appropriately enough, Somersault sets up a certain expectation, only to turn it on its head.