Despite its title, Cate Shortland's Somersault has no impressive feats of gymnastic ability in its 105 minutes. Instead, we are treated to another story of a young woman discovering both love and sexuality, while also learning the crucial differences between them. My Summer of Love, an impassioned, but wholly contrived film that debuted earlier this year, looked at these events in the face of a young lesbian (bisexual?) relationship. Shortland goes for the straight and narrow.
Heidi (Abbie Cornish) is a naïve teen who lives with her mom and her boyfriend. Before your mind starts flopping around in the gutter, no, the boyfriend does not molest her and he is not an abusive drunk. One morning, after her mom leaves, Heidi comes onto the boyfriend and they begin to kiss, right as Heidi's mom, Nicole (Olivia Pigeot) comes back in to catch them. Quickly, Heidi runs off to the town of Jindabyne, where she shacks up with a local yuppie for a place to stay. Second night, she meets the mysterious and handsome Joe (Sam Worthington), who takes her back to a hotel where they have at it, like we all know they will. Heidi makes friends with the hotel manager Irene (Lynette Curran) and takes a job at the local gas station with Bianca (Hollie Andrew), a strange, presumptuous woman around Heidi's age. The film mainly consists of Heidi trying to keep these relationships in check and trying to make a life out of the nothing that she has.
We have a character, Heidi, and she is played with gravity and nuance by newcomer Abbie Cornish (think young Nicole Kidman). Also, there are complications to that character that are given real power through the cast that outlines Heidi's adventure. The film has heart and soul but it's desperately lacking a body, which, for once, is a negative quality. Shortland's script is shortsighted and never digs enough into the heart of the matter that makes Heidi the fascinating incarnation she is. Robert Humphreys' camerawork brings a magnetic, haunting vibrancy to Heidi's walks alone and Shortland, as a director, gives a crisp feeling to the small, strange happenings that the film brings up, but never really deals with (Joe's homosexuality, Bianca's younger brother, Irene's son). Sadly, these images and ideas are nothing we can't find in meatier, braver films (recently: Ira Sachs' astonishing Forty Shades of Blue, the aforementioned My Summer of Love).
Somersault swept the Australian Film Institute Awards last year, which is why it got a release in the states. More than likely, it will be released in LA and NYC to a small, interested crowd who either want to look smart or who have friends who worked on the film in Australia. It will be forgotten, and it's hard to make a case for its remembrance. This, however, should not be taken as a sign of a truly bad movie going on under the celluloid. In fact, most people working on the film do their jobs to commendable effect. However, I say this like I would say "That wasn't a bad episode of My So-Called Life". We enjoy and like the film but we are not asked to hang onto it or its ideas. Instead, there are just images of pretty shots and a good-looking Australian girl that we can't really place with a time or setting. Like Patrick Bateman said in American Psycho, there is an idea of a movie here, but no real movie.