Ellie & Abbie (& Ellie’s Dead Aunt)

***1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Ellie & Abbie (& Ellie’s Dead Aunt)
"A cheerful, messy kind of comedy which doesn't hit every beat but is easy to like."

What is it with adults? At the times in teenagers' lives when they most need to figure things out on their own, they're always intruding, offering advice that might have worked a century ago but would make you a laughing stock now, trying to micromanage your love life long after they've forgotten what it's like to be in your position. Yes, Ellie (Sophie Hawkshaw) is a lesbian, and yes, that still comes with challenges that straight people don't have to face, but it's not like it was in the past and the last thing she needs is her aunt Tara (Julia Billington) sticking her nose in - especially as Tara has been dead since before she was born.

Monica Zanetti's sweet-natured teen romcom has been a hit at LGBTQ+ festivals around the world and is now ready for a wider audience. It's a largely character-driven piece focused on Ellie and her aunt and, of course, the object of her desires, Abbie (Zoe Terakes), but it's also a comparison of what life was like for Australian LGBTQ+ people now and 20 years ago, with something to teach to both generations. It explores the tradition of older people in that community taking younger ones under their wing to teach them the skills needed to deal with hostility from the wider world, but it acknowledges that that hostility has declined, and that today's lesbian teenagers don't find dating much more difficult than their straight peers do. That is, they no longer find themselves in physical danger (in most places) - they just feel tremendously awkward and tend to screw it up for reasons that are entirely personal.

Abbie is not the sort of girl who waits quietly for a potential date to do all the work. When she knows Ellie is interested in her - which isn't difficult to figure out - she lets it be known that the feeling is mutual. That doesn't mean, however, that she's ready to et into a relationship. If Ellie wants to take her to the formal (the Aussie equivalent of a prom), she's going to have to prove herself.

At the same time as she's trying to deal with this, Ellie has another problem. Coming out to her mother hasn't gone the way she hoped. Now they're rowing all the time, leaving her with nobody to talk to except her dead aunt, whose advice she's getting really sick of. Preoccupied as she is, it doesn't occur to her that her aunt's death and her mother's reaction might be interconnected. Before she's ready to build her future, she's going to have to confront her family's past.

A cheerful, messy kind of comedy which doesn't hit every beat but is easy to like, this is closer to a buddy movie than a conventional ghost story. Understanding her aunt's story ultimately means that Ellie has some growing up to do, and there's a recognition here that coming of age is still not the same for LGBTQ+ kids as for straight ones, but the maturity she develops seems likely to be necessary to impress Abbie anyway - if she can manage not to jeopardise that opportunity. It's not clear that her anxiety and Abbie's intolerance for bullshit, coupled with a tendency to tease, are a very good fit, but the heart wants what it wants and we have to trust her.

Directed with a light touch despite its occasional delving into deeper emotion (Marta Dusseldorp, playing Ellie's mother, is excellent in a pivotal scene), this is a smart, personable little film that will have widespread appeal.

Reviewed on: 10 Jun 2021
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Ellie & Abbie (& Ellie’s Dead Aunt) packshot
In this romcom, Ellie’s dead aunt has the perfect dating advice for her. But will she listen to it?

Director: Monica Zanetti

Writer: Monica Zanetti

Year: 2019

Runtime: 82 minutes

Country: Australia


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