VOD film review: Ellie & Abbie (and Ellie’s Dead Aunt)
Ivan Radford | On 12, Jun 2021
Director: Monica Zanetti
Cast: Sophie Hawkshaw, Marta Dusseldorp, Julia Billington, Zoe Terakes
Where to watch Ellie & Abbie (& Ellie’s Dead Aunt) online in the UK: Curzon Home Cinema
“You’re making such a big deal of this. It’s not a special gay conversation. It’s two people talking.” That’s Ellie to her mum (Marta Dusseldorp) in Ellie & Abbie (& Ellie’s Dead Aunt), a romantic comedy about a Sydney high-schooler navigating the challenges of coming out.
Ellie (Sophie Hawkshaw) is a nerdy student, who finds reassurance in reciting affirmations from self-help videos, hoping that it will manifest confidence, abundance and other such abstract concepts. Much more tangible is her hope to form a connection with Abbie (Zoe Terakes), a classmate who’s seeming out of her reach – not just because she’s serving detention all week.
On its own, it’s a sweet, if familiar, tale, but Ellie & Abbie balances that tender teen romance with the second half of its title – Ellie’s dead aunt. Played by Julia Billington with a winning, brash charisma, Tara appears out of nowhere to start giving guardian angel-style advice to her niece. From not understanding how texts work to her outdated dating tips (“Ask if she follows AFL!”), Tara’s about as much use as Ellie’s other lesbian role model (Rachel House – MVP of every Down Under film from the past decade), but what emerges is a beautiful intergenerational relationship that’s as captivating as the one unfolding in the school corridors.
Writer and director Monica Zanetti has a gorgeous sense of tone, blending the two elements of her story together rather than alternating between them. Each character has their own complications, which makes them surprising as well as warmly rounded. Terakes is superb as the apparent delinquent Abbie, who’s actually earnest and unabashedly open-hearted, while Hawkshaw’s juggling of nerves and growing certainty is immediately endearing. But just as they have crossed wires and shortcomings, so too do Tara and Ellie’s mum, and watching the ensemble all come to terms with this and accept each other as they are is a joy.
The result is a sweet story of solidarity as much as affection, of budding respect and engagement with the people who have paved the way for equality and acceptance today. It feels more Australian than American, but never in a pointed way, just as the film feels distinct from heterosexual high school movies but isn’t defined by that. Steeped in adolescent worries and optimism, it’s an endearing, delightful treat.