Another triumph for Duigan

Wednesday, April 10, 1991

Flirting
Written and directed by John Duigan
Starring Noah Taylor, Thandie Newton and Nicole Kidman
Reviewed by Tracy Sorensen

If you're the school dag, there are various alternatives: brazen it out; let everyone get on top of you; or go off into a fantasy world of your own.

For Danny Embling (Noah Taylor), life in a NSW country boarding school largely involves the last two, until he meets a new boarder in the girls' school across the river. At that point, the weedy, stammering reader of Jean-Paul Sartre realises that brazening it out is the only way forward.

In this delightful sequel to The Year My Voice Broke, Embling throws himself into second love with gusto, nonchalantly braving all the circumstances: a fight with a boy three times his size to defend his girlfriend's honour, midnight rowboat trips across the river and more.

All of this has been done before, but Taylor's perfect rendering of this unlikely Romeo, and writer-director John Duigan's refreshing new angles (the over-the-top use of slowed film in the fight scene, for example) make it all more than worthwhile.

This warm and very funny film draws on nostalgia for what strikes us now as a more straightforward era (Menzies is quoted in a school debate in the same breath as Aristotle and Shakespeare) and on the more timeless dichotomies of teenage longings (exalted intellectual stirrings competing with more profane ones).

Embling's charm is matched by a strong performance from English-Ugandan actress Thandie Newton, who plays Thandiwe Adjewa, the black girl who rocks Embling's fifth-form world.

Thandiwe, also an outsider, has clearly never considered any option other than brazening it out: she puts up with racist taunts and patronising attitudes with a self-possessed, almost haughty air.

Like the popular Dead Poets Society, this is a film which is about taking risks, about choosing life over the deadening effects of social conformity. Unlike DPS, Flirting achieves emotional resonance without the trowel-fuls of sentimentality with which Hollywood drowns almost everything it touches.

Meanwhile, the thoughtful way Embling fingers a book by Leon Trotsky on Karl Marx can only be a pointer to the film to come (Flirting is the second in a trilogy): Embling will be just the right age in 1968 for a film set in those watershed times. Something to look forward to.

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