50 Ways of Saying Fabulous, an odd and somewhat whimsical period piece set in rural New Zealand in the hot summer of 1975, ponders the confusing sexual awakenings of effete Billy (Andrew Patterson) and his best friend, the tomboyish Louise (Harriet Beattie). At the age of 12, they're not only puzzled by their new impulses but also puzzled by the kinds of things that trigger them.
Though on the surface everything looks idyllic as Billy and Lou bicycle madly across the countryside and attend a one-room schoolhouse, there's a dark undercurrent. Billy is bullied by town toughs (Louise, a rugby player, is his protector), and there's the sense that the parents of this town practice some very tough love.
When a new boy, the slightly hatchet-faced Roy (Jay Collins, who looks rather like Gareth from the British version of The Office), arrives from the city and enters school, the kids circle the wagons and brand him as an intolerably weird outsider. Only Billy is kind to the bashful Roy, and Roy interprets that kindness as a romantic overture. Although everyone in the school calls everyone else a "poofter," no one knows what it means. But as Roy introduces Billy to the mysteries of onanism in a dark barn, Billy starts to get the idea and wonders if he, too, shouldn't push Roy away.
Billy suffers even more emotional turmoil upon the arrival of Jamie (Michael Dorman), the new farm hand. A strapping young man who exudes glamour and excitement, he's instantly Billy's object of idol worship, and Billy's attempts to insinuate himself into Jamie's life get creepier and creepier. And Roy suffers physical abuse from his brute of a father. Despite the merry music and moments of humor, 50 Ways is not all sunshine on the farm.
This disconnect between comedy and grim reality hurts the film. Online commenters complain that novel on which it's based is far superior, which may suggest that writer/director Stewart Main had too much source material to work with and made some bad choices in cutting the book down to size for his screenplay. How should we really feel about Billy's predicament? Even as the movie ends, you'll still be wondering.
DVD Note: The disc includes an interesting day-by-day documentary of the tortured production of the film, most of which was shot outdoors in uncooperative weather. Another big problem: star Andrew Patterson, an exceedingly fragile boy whose many accidents and injuries kept forcing the production to shut down.
Does this glass bubble helmet make me look fat?