A well-earned happy ending


The Heartbreak Kid
Directed by Michael Jenkins
Written by Richard Barrett and Michael Jenkins
With Claudia Karvan, Alex Dimitriades, Steven Bastoni, Nico Lathouris
At Hoyts Cinemas
Reviewed by Max Lane

Heartbreak Kid packs a lot into a simple and attractive story. It is built around a series of contradictions and tensions, all involving the same two characters.

Christina or "Papa" (Claudia Karvan) is a young woman school teacher at a working-class suburban public school where there are many Greek and other non-Anglo students. She is especially keen to help the students with a non-Anglo background succeed. Nick (Alex Dimitriades) is a 17-year-old, super keen on soccer but not so interested in his studies.

As a relationship develops between these two people, contradictions unfold.

Papa is engaged to be married to Dimitri (Steven Bastoni) the most atrociously male chauvinist, candidate municipal council member ever seen on an Australian cinema screen. In cahoots with Dimitri is Papa's father, who has helped Dimitri map out Papa's life with him. The desire for a relationship with Nick naturally challenges her with how to deal with her prison-like existence at home.

At the same time, her solidarity with Nick brings her into conflict with anti-"ethnic" prejudice at school. Nick and his mates want to play soccer, but the dimwit sports master thinks only Aussie Rules should be taught.

The conflict between the Papa and the sports master, between the marginalised people in the school and those defending the status quo, naturally overlaps and makes even more difficult the teacher-student romance that provides the essential basis of the story.

In bringing alive the range of interesting and totally credible characters, the film has been able to incorporate the impact of class differences on family culture. Both Papa's and Nick's fathers vehemently oppose the relationship between the teacher and her student; both exhibit the more prudish values of their own generation. But one is motivated by the male chauvinist sense of property over his daughter, the other, devoid of both a sense of property and property itself, by affection for his son.

There are many other biting, and deservingly vicious little insights into the oppressions of the worst form of bourgeois family life.

The film poses and solves the problems of gender and ethnic oppression as an individual question. Papa and Nick liberate themselves in their own lives; there are no implications, direct or indirect, for solutions to the problems in general. But whenever real people set themselves free, to the extent they can, from their own personal oppressions, they are also more free to face such general problems as independent human beings.

This is a well-made romance about real people with a genuine happy ending: not dwelling on 'love conquering all" but on people freeing themselves of the oppressions they have inherited.