The term ‘dark coming of age’ should be a given; after all, whose maturity into adulthood was all calm and straightforward? Former actress and current director Lisa Bruhlmann takes the topic of teenage girls finding themselves in the world and places them in a light that is part starkly realistic and part magical madness.
Mia (Luna Wedler) is going through changes. She’s just started her period, recently moved schools due to father’s work and she’s struggling with the idea she might be adopted. She’s not shy and reserved as some young girls might be, instead she’s determined to be friends with the cool girl Gianna (Zoe Pastelle Holthuizen) and her little ragtag crew. After letting the girls insult her, they finally decide to ease up and give her a chance, although she naturally must go through a sort of initiation that includes allowing them to create an online dating profile for her and trying erotic asphyxiation. While she slowly makes new friends at school, life at home is tense and cold; she has a raging temper against her mother and her father is only ever around to scold her. To make things worse, her body is going through physical changes that she cannot control, including the growth of webbed toes and a sudden craving for her mother’s goldfish. As she struggles to handle the uncontrollable changes, she falls deeper into teenage rebellion.
What the film explores very well is the process of growing up as a young girl: an unimaginable desire to fit in, the unending feeling of isolation, the panic towards a body that is changing faster than one can keep up with and, of course, curiosity towards sex. We see all these play out through Mia’s borderline obsessive craving for Gianna’s approval, willing to do everything to prove herself by emulating her new friend, although her lack of awareness means that she takes what she sees in Gianna to an extreme. At the same time, her physical changes that coincide with the beginning of her period is something that seems obvious at first, but Bruhlmann and her makeup team do well to capture the horror of puberty; Mia tries everything to ‘fix’ herself - including a scene where webbed toes meets scissors - but as more time passes, she finds it harder to hide herself and pretend it isn’t happening. Sound familiar?
Bruhlmann mentioned in the Q&A that there was originally a male love interest for Mia in the earliest drafts, but luckily he was taken out and more time is spent on Gianna instead, who is another intriguing character. She is introduced as a Regina George type yet as time passes, there is a genuine connection between her and Mia which allows Gianna to become more than a ‘mean girl’. In a scene where everyone is partying and getting outstandingly smashed, Gianna is not so composed as she annoys other groups of people and throws her guts up, leaving only Mia to take her home and take care of her.
I cannot give enough credit to Luna Wedler’s performance and subsequently Bruhlmann’s direction. Sometimes the film is difficult to watch, especially as the it reaches its final stages and Mia is in dire need of help and has found herself divorced from her parents, but the intention to highlight the extremities of Mia’s plight is well crafted; my only criticism is that there are only so many slow-motion party scenes I can watch before it gets a little stale. Overall this is a film that is worth your attention, although perhaps not for the squeamish. If you liked Raw, you’ll love this.
- Xiao Tang