Ellie & Abbie (& Ellie’s Dead Aunt) is the slightly clunky title for a slightly clunky film about teen love, hidden family secrets and a helpful/unhelpful ghost.
Back in February, the Queer Screen Mardi Gras Film Festival opened with Ellie & Abbie (& Ellie’s Dead Aunt), making it the first Australian film to open the festival in its 27 year history. Now, it’s getting a wider release, and audiences around Australia can enjoy this quirky addition to the annals of Australian cinema.
The film opens with Ellie (Sophie Hawkshaw) sitting on a toilet, scrolling through pictures of another girl on her phone. Later at school, a boy in her class uses a surprise message written on a whiteboard to ask a girl in the class to the formal. This apparently inspires Ellie to do the same. But as she approaches the target of her affection, Abbie (Zoe Terakes), she loses her nerve and retreats.
When Ellie gets home that day, she tells with her mum, Erica (Marta Dusseldorp) that she wants to ask a girl to the formal. Erica is awkwardly unresponsive. Ellie storms off and shuts herself in the bathroom where she is confronted by Tara (Julia Billington), her mother’s younger sister who died before Ellie was born.
The comic tone is, by now, established. Much of the humour derives from unexpected twists on cliches for films in this genre: Ellie has no angst about her sexuality (there are five other gay kids at school, she tells Tara); Abbie, we soon learn, is also gay and shares Ellie’s attraction. This, in fact, leads to the film’s biggest flaw: there isn’t any inherent adversity in the situation, so it feels like the film’s tension is a little contrived and mostly based around Ellie’s highly-strung emotions.
Erica is, inexplicably, not handling Ellie’s coming out very well – “inexplicably” because Tara is/was gay and Tara’s former partner, Patty (Rachel House) is now Erica’s best friend. There is some explanation to be had later in the film when we find out exactly how Tara died, but Erica’s resistance mostly feels unreasonable.
Tara’s character adds the ditzy, prattfall element of humour, although there is definitely a deep tragic element to her story. Her anachronistic advice to Ellie about ‘how to get the girl’ accounts for many of the narrative ups and downs. Patty is the most grounded character and the wonderful Rachel House should have been given more screen time.
It is a light and very enjoyable film and refreshingly so for this genre. Great soundtrack, too.
Screening at festivals and cinemas across the country in November.
Visit ellieandabbie.com.au to find a session near you. For more on Ellie & Abbie star Zoe Terakes, see the Sentinel’s recent interview with the actor: https://sydneysentinel.com.au/2020/10/the-art-of-authenticity/.
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