Teenage Kicks is probably the best made and most memorable queer movie that I’ve seen in a long time. I’m not saying this because it comes from Australia. I didn’t like the film Holding the Man at all. It just didn’t do the book any justice. Writer/Director Craig Boreham’s film is very well put together. It is an ambitious and complex story that is very well told.
The beautiful and very talented Miles Szanto stars as Miklós Varga a young man from a migrant family who thinks he is in love with his best friend Dan (Daniel Webber). Mik is also carrying around the guilt associated with the recent death of his brother Tomi (Nadim Kobeissi) and even more baggage from a complex family history. His mate Dan has just found a girlfriend and this greatly disappoints Mik because he was hoping to escape to the North soon with Dan and their surfboards.
Mik, however, faces even more complex challenges as he starts to develop his own sexual identity. There is Dan’s new girlfriend Phaedra (Charlotte Best) who confronts him about his love for Dan and then tempts him in a park. Tomi’s very pregnant partner Annuska (Shari Sebbens) seems to transfer her affection and love to Mik, and Shari Sebbens portrays this with much skill and sensitivity. Then the many issues he is dealing with come to a head when he almost drowns in a pool at Phaedra’s home but he is saved by Dan who later rejects Mik’s drunken confession of his love very violently. As he starts to burn some bridges to his family and friends, Mik explores his gay sexuality, with some gay web-cam boys he meets in Kings Cross and a blow-job in a park from Sam (played by the gorgeously sensual Joshua Longhurst). More dangerously, he also experiments with some strong drugs. It all looks to be heading towards an inevitable cluster-fuck …
The acting is all very good, particularly from Miles Szanto who does carry the major load. Mik’s character is a very challenging role and it could easily have been either over-played, stilted or degenerated into that of a good looking soap opera character. Along with this, there is some beautiful cinematography of Sydney’s stunning southern coastline and of some close and genuinely tender moments between Mik and several other cast members.
I have just the one criticism of the film. I didn’t find Miles convincing as a teenager, let alone as a school aged boy. The actor is actually 24. I don’t think the film needed Mik to be a teenager or at school and it isn’t a critical element of the story. One’s sexual immaturity isn’t limited to defined by a school uniform. Mine certainly wasn’t. And even today I think that accepting one’s queer identity can take a lot longer than your experience at school.
What is great about this film, especially for queer youth, is that ultimately Mik isn’t doomed by some poor choices, nor consumed by his perception of guilt over his brother’s death. He proves to be resilient to the brutality he suffers, retains his tender loving nature, doesn’t burn all his bridges before him and then gets on with his life. Hopefully he hooks up again with Sam, but maybe that is just me dreaming.
A memorable and enjoyable queer film about choices, love and hope.
My Bruce McAvaney Specialness Rating*: 4/5 (Most people would think this to be special.)