Watching so many Australian films, one simply wishes that something would leap out of the screen: a personality, an exciting story, a touch of cinematic magic.
Looking For Alibrandi at least has the personality: Pia Miranda is compulsively watchable as Josie, a feisty teenager in an Italian-Australian home.
Shakily adapted by Melina Marchetta from her popular novel, Looking for Alibrandi gives the appearance of looking for a plot.
There are several centres of interest that do not always mesh well together: Josie's wavering between two boys, John (Matthew Newton) and Jacob (Kick Curry); the sudden introduction into Josie's life of the father she never knew, Michael (Anthony LaPaglia); and the tension between Josie's mother, Christina (Greta Scacchi), and grandmother, Katia (Elena Cotta), which hides a family secret.
Issues of class difference, cultural heritage, friendship and ambition are also thrown into the soup. Whenever Josie strides around embodying these ideas in actions – such as the delightfully shocking moment when she bashes the snotty Carly (Leeanna Walsman) with a thick textbook – the film flows well and entertainingly enough.
The film is less successful when director Kate Woods tries her hand at fantasy inserts, montage scenes set to songs, or standard frolic sequences such as the clumsy moment at a family gathering when everyone starts bopping to an old record. Much like The Heartbreak Kid (1993), Looking for Alibrandi clearly aspires to the pop energy of such American teen films as Drive Me Crazy (1999), but falls far short of the mark.
The least satisfying aspect of the movie is its brave injection of high drama mid-way. The significance of this crucial event drains away quickly; we are made privy neither to the reason it happened, nor its deepest effects on those who cope with it. Once Looking for Alibrandi has dropped this bombshell, it scampers away from the consequences, and for the rest of the plot everyone behaves like nothing ever happened.
This is a film full of good intentions, likeable performances and certain hooks that may prove irresistible to a mass audience, such as the girl-power vibe and (as in The Wogboy, 2000) a multicultural-friendly ambience. It lacks, however, the cleverness and style that could have made it a landmark in Australian cinema.
© Adrian Martin May 2000