48 Shades

Year: 2006
Director: Daniel LaPaine
Writer: Daniel LaPaine
Cast: Emma Lung, Richard Wilson, Victoria Thaine, Robin McLeavey
Movies have long been a young person's phenomenon. They're mostly targeted at young audiences, there are far more younger than older actors simply because they're more photogenic, and if you're a screen actor, you wear their opening-power use-by date in every wrinkle around your mouth.

So it's natural one of the most well worn genres in Australian film is the coming of age tale. With no car chases or special effects it's cheap to make, and the whole story can be told with people simply talking. So 48 Shades takes its place in the canon alongside everything from The Year My Voice Broke to 2:37.

It deals with the return from overseas of teenager Dan (Wilson) to the suburban Brisbane house of his Aunt Jacq, a feisty 21-year-old uni student in a punk band. While Jacq's just the sort of cool Auntie every 17-year-old would want, it's even better that she shares a house with the delectable but ditzy hippy chick Naomi (Lung), who captures hearts with a breathless flash of her bee sting-lipped smile.

Unsuccessfully resisting the urge to fall for Naomi, Dan stumbles his way through affairs of the heart amid share house living with the lack of finesse of most teen boys. Although good-natured, he embarks on an ill-conceived campaign to learn all about the scientific names of birds, including the shades of brown that exist in the bird kingdom (48 of them) to impress Naomi.

It isn't until the last few scenes we learn Jacq has her own secret about Naomi, and the house has become an entanglement of star cross'd lovers straight out of Romeo and Juliet, the play Dan's studying at school.

Based on the successful novel 48 Shades of Brown, the film is a nice idea but the tone feels a little off at times. It wants to be a contemporary 'youth issue' film but doesn't quite have enough bite. It's less Secret Life of Us and He Died With a Falafel in His Hand than it is Hating Alison Ashley, more likely to appeal to people 12-15 than those it depicts in the movie.

Structurally interesting, there's little climax to speak of aside from a subtle shift that allows both Dan and Jacq to move on, and most of the action centres around a weekend party occupying the second act of the film.

The performances are all earnest but a little too 'performed' by some actors, where seeing them act rather than believing in them jars you out of the movie. Lung and McLeavy as Jacq are both breezy talents that are easy to watch, it's the boys who come off less believable.

The film's also a love letter to Brisbane, with lots of languid shots over the hilly suburbs of colonial Queenslander homes, ferries on the Brisbane river and the Story Bridge.

48 Shades is cute and slightly dreamlike, but there's more urgency to youth culture on television nowadays, so it might have benefited from a realignment of ages in either the cast or intended audience.

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