As we all know, either from experience or from the movies, high school can be a cruel, unforgiving place for those of us who don't 'fit in' or play by the rules. From Brian De Palma's Carrie, via Todd Solondz's Welcome To The Dollhouse to Mark Waters' Mean Girls, adolescent female characters especially have often come under the spotlight of both their classmates and viewing audiences.

In J B Ghuman Jr's eye catching feature length debut, Spork, the brow beaten life of its outcast titular central character is made all the harder as she/he is a 14-year-old hermaphrodite. Identifying 'herself' as a she, Spork (Savannah Stehlin) – nicknamed after the neither-one-thing-or-the-other fork/spoon cutlery implement – spends her days either suffering the unwanted, cruel attention of Queen Bee Betsy Byotch (Rachel G Fox) or enduring the chaotic environment of her trailer trash home-life. This slight, familiar premise is presented in memorably offbeat fashion as a bastard, untutored sibling of Glee or High School Musical, with extended musical interludes, anarchic vignettes of high school and family life and a satirical script that places the movie far from the mainstream position held by its aforementioned counterpoints.

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Channeling the spirit of John Waters, Solondz, John Cameron Mitchell, Gregg Araki and Spike Lee, Ghuman creates a grungy, fairytale type milieu populated by off-kilter but recognisable character types represented in gaudy, lo-fi fashion. Utilising magic realism, split screen effects, animation and an uptempo, catchy soundtrack, Ghuman both plays into the contemporary popularity of musical based shows and movies while undercutting it with foul mouthed characters and a defiantly non-polished presentation.

Issues surrounding identity, sexuality, outsiderdom, friendship, family and encroaching adulthood are addressed in refreshingly unsentimental fashion, Spork may pluck the heartstrings but its does so with an askew sense of humour free of Hollywood schmaltz. The young, game cast add to the raw, unvarnished and energetic feel of the movie as the usual high school movie narrative is adhered to but playfully toyed with.

Particular credit should go to Sydney Park as Tootsie Roll, Spork's African American neighbour and one true friend, for bringing an endearing charm to her smart-mouthed, booty-shaking dancer struggling with her own family problems and identity issues. A high school dance off competition provides the movie with its central plot-line, bringing Spork out of her shell and into the direct firing line of her nemesis Betsy Byotch and her cronies. What unfolds may be predictable in outcome, and recalls the unforgettable climax of Little Miss Sunshine, but the sheer anarchic verve of the journey carries Spork along to its signposted resolution.

As loud and manic as Spork may be on the surface, there's a genuinely big and tender heart beating away underneath. The characters might be larger than life and rendered in broad, cartoonish brush strokes but the underlying teenage emotions, tribulations, aspirations and situations faced have their basis in cold, hard reality. Tart, sweet and effervescent, Spork is a delightfully unusual confection.

Reviewed on: 12 Jul 2012
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Foul-mouthed, musical coming-of-age tale
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