Friday, June 15, 2012

Hey Hey It's Esther Blueburger

    Bespectacled, Australian/Jewish and peculiarly named Esther Blueburger (Danielle Catanzriti)'s coming-of-age is the subject of this balanced comedy-drama, which starts out strong and sinks into a pile of saccharine sweetness and bewildering contrivance. The theme, that in the pursuit of popularity, a young person can become the thing they've always hated -- a bully -- is a little didactic, but the movie initially deals with it in a light way.

   Esther is a twin, which would be hard enough in itself, but in this case especially so, as her brother is both manipulative and highly intelligent. She lives with the said twin (Christian Byars) and her inattentive parents (Essie Davis and Russell Dykstra) and goes to a private school which, day in and day out, is a parade of stifling conformity.

   The school uniforms are heinous. The halls are populated by school bullies, including a chick-clique that resembles an Aussie "The Plastics," and nerds. Esther is a nerd, hopelessly out of step with her peers. Lonely, she finds comfort in a flock of ducklings found caged in a classroom, who subsequently end up being the class science experiment.

   Esther's folks want her to invite friends to her upcoming Bat Mitzvah. Esther doesn't have any friends, at least, not until she meets popular Sunni (Keisha Castle-Hughes, an attractive and talented actress you might know for her astonishing performance in Whale Rider.) Sunni introduces her to her unpleasant, b**chy friends. But, surprisingly, Sunni isn't like the others. She takes her under her wing and, in her own slightly condescending way, introduces her to the clique experience.

   Unknown to her parents, Esther borrows a school uniform of Sunni's and goes to her school secretly, where she struggles to reinvent herself. Along the way, she learns the ins and outs of school politics, meets Sunni's eccentric mom, Mary (Toni Collette), who moonlights as a pole dancer, and begins to become a bully, much to the chagrin of Sunni, who had expected more of her.

    Hey Hey It's Esther Blueburger starts out as a nice little movie, which saves it from being a complete failure in the end. Newcomer Danielle Catanzriti tends to overact with her mouth, but overall she's a good little actress, but it is Christian Byars who really stands out as her troubled brother. Keisha Castle-Hughes doesn't get as much of a juicy role as she did in Whale Rider, but she holds her own as likable but imperfect Sunni, who is more complicated  than her name suggests.

   The main problem here is the sentimental, overcooked ending and the air of predictability. There are some uncomfortable moments, such as Esther making out with a much-older boy who asks to "feel her boobs" (a watered-down version of a scene in This Is England), or when Esther laments that she "doesn't want to be a virgin at fourteen" (sad, but all too realistic). This is nothing compared to a deleted sequence, which I have only heard described, that was cut from the Region 1 release. The sexual content makes it a movie for kids twelve and up and adults who can look past that the fact that the ending approaches ridiculousness and nearly ruins the movie.

Note- In my humble opinion, the tagline ("Sometimes you have to fit in to stand out") doesn't make a whole lot of sense.

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