I must admit that I cringed at the thought of sitting through yet another coming of age comedy drama. Still, its quirky title and female writer/director did peak my interest long enough to actually see Australia’s newest flick, “Hey Hey It’s Esther Blueburger” and I’m very glad I did. It just goes to show that even the most jaded of us can still be moved by an intelligent and provocative film. As for its description as comedy, well… I don’t know. I really did not find this often, intense drama particularly funny or necessarily for kids. But those are matters each viewer can decide.
Esther Blueburger is a 13-year-old from a well to do family. She is gawky in braids, eyeglasses, braces and annoying knee socks that she prefers to wear low. At first glance, Esther, her math-nerd twin brother Jacob and Ma and Pa Blueburger seem the typical privileged family, as they live out their lives and not-too-serious itineraries. Esther argues with her parents and brother in typical young teen fashion. She painfully prepares for her Bas Mitzvah, while seeking out non-existent RSVPs for the benefit of her mother. Even when we witness the average bullying that Esther succumbs to each day at her posh private school, we are not too bothered. After all, how many of us were popular sophisticates at that age? Not me, that’s for sure!
Not too surprisingly considering her circumstances, we see that Esther is a bit eccentric, when she fosters a soon to be dissected duckling named Normal. Life abruptly changes for Esther when she meets the slightly older, public-schooler named Sunni. Surprisingly, the two become fast friends and Esther learns about life on the other side of the tracks. Esther soon discovers that she has more in common with Sunni and her cool, Exotic Dancer, single-mom than she shares with her own family. The new friends concoct a plan to sneak Esther into Sunni’s school. Esther is to portray a Swedish exchange student, complete with accent and wardrobe. Once this is accomplished, the lives of all concerned are never the same.
Being a huge Krzystof Kieslowski fan (“The Double Life of Veronique,” “Dekalog,” etc.), what I find most intriguing about Cathy Randall’s film is her ability to tap into highly complex philosophical issues while retaining apparent levity among children living the mundane. Two scenes come to mind. The first concerns Esther’s so called Swedish “impromptu poem” where she rearranges the letters in her last name and pronounces what is left, accordingly. She repeats this scene at a school assembly toward the film’s end, right before she falls from the stage. The most notable scene concerns the death of Sunni’s mother. Attired in an uncharacteristic business suit, she acquires her dream Real Estate position, only to forget her motorcycle helmet at the office and suffer a fateful crash. What are we to learn from these scenes? That re-inventing ourselves is somehow wrong or that whatever we choose to do involves no choice, or perhaps, sorcery? For that matter, what role does clothing really play in regard to identity and can articles of clothing be moved from one place to another without signifying the owner’s demise?
Though not entirely devoid of problems the film moves a bit sluggishly in spots. In spite of this, Randall’s directorial debut is an immense success worthy of high praise. Extremely well acted, this poignant, yet not the least sappy tale evokes universal questions and emotion. To me, these are everything. Furthermore, the dialogue and social interplay reverberate such authenticity that at times it’s difficult to believe we are looking at a screen. One thing is for certain. “Hey Hey It’s Esther Blueburger” should not be compartmentalized as a teen-only film. It is a definite must see for all who dare to question and travel outside their customary stations in life.
“Hey Hey It’s Esther Blueburger” will open at theaters on May 21, 2010 and will be available on DVD July 13, 2010. The film is distributed by Monterey Media.