Emo the Musical (2016)

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Harold and Maude meets High School Musical in this messy, funny, teen romp of a film by Australian Neil Triffett. Ethan (Benson Jack Anthony) is a misfit in his school. Identifying as an emo with black eyeliner and a melancholic preoccupation with death, he is expelled after trying unsuccessfully to hang himself from a tree in the schoolyard. As the new kid at scruffy Seymour High, he finds his tribe with wannabe emo band Worst Day Ever who are vying for a prize in a regional band competition. Trouble arises when Ethan falls for Trinity (Jordan Hare), singer in rival Christian band Hope.

If you’ve every seen any teen film of this ilk, you’ll know the story arc and the familiar tropes; misfit teens defining their identities through warring tribes, only to find that what really counts is to be who you are. Romeo and Juliet, Rebel Without a Cause, West Side Story, Grease (1 and 2), High School Musical (reportedly based on the unmade treatment for a second Grease sequel), Mean Girls and so on and so on. What makes this one so endearing is that it doesn’t take itself at all seriously. The characters are likeable, even the ones who are pitted against our star-crossed lovers, and the music lyrics and dialogue are genuinely funny.

Benson Jack Anthony is a talent to watch and he does a good job of embodying the maudlin angst of adolescence. His obsessive dedication to all things emo, characterised mainly by fashion choices and song lyrics, can’t hide his underlying compassion and need to fit in. The choice of emo and Christianity as the two opposing philosophies allows for some clever juxtaposition as we consider how deep each belief system goes and how much is about fitting in and following rules.

There isn’t a lot of depth to the characters although they are mostly well drawn and relatable. Stand outs are Worst Day Ever lead singer Bradley (Rahart Adams) and Christians Isaac (Jon Prasida) and Jamali (Geraldine Viswanathan). The only oddity is a character who we never really get introduced to who is the love interest of Christian Peter (Craig Hyde-Smith). Peter, rather desperately and unsuccessfully, is trying to hide his homosexuality and ‘love interest’ encourages him to come out, even singing a rather lovely and clever song with him (and enjoying a satisfying kiss). Still don’t know his name though (so that would have constituted a fail for the Queer Bechdel test).

Adults are largely absent other than a messy subplot about education system funding and corporate callousness and we see, instead, only the all-consuming high school world of teens. If there is a subtext, it would be, perhaps the pervasive theme of bullying. Even the most well-meaning are trying to force others to do something – be baptised, feed the students anti-depressants, keep quiet, hate what they hate, like what they like. The resolution at the end is expected but done in a non-threatening, all-inclusive, warm-hearted way.

I saw the film with my emo teenager daughter who loved it and was delighted at all of the references to emo bands and songs. We have already downloaded the four songs available on iTunes and I wish there were more – I’d love to have the ‘Come to Church’ and ‘Could Jesus be an Emo’ songs, they are the kinds of lyrics we would learn by heart in our family and turn into a party piece. I recommend watching this with a teen, if you’ve got one.

Currently in cinemas

Bechdel test – pass (but not significantly)

 

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