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The Independent Critic

Abbie Cornish, Lynette Curran, Sam Worthington
Cate Shortland
106 Mins.
 "Somersault" Review 
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"Somersault," the writing and directing debut from Australian film-maker Cate Shortland, captured 13 Australian Film Institute Awards in 2004. After nearly two years on the film festival circuit, "Somersault" briefly hit theatres in limited release earlier in 2006 before arriving this month on DVD.

"Somersault" is the kind of film that Australians seem to love. It is a coming-of-age story, a family drama, and an overcoming the odds story wrapped all in one. The film stars Abbie Cornish as Heidi, a young girl who seems to quickly learn the power of her burgeoning sexuality but who hasn't a clue how best to manage this power. When she's caught by her equally trampy mother (Olivia Pigeot) making out with the mother's boyfriend, Heidi quickly moves to a ski town, convinced that a man she once met (sex is implied) will give her a job.

"Somersault" largely centers on Heidi's experiences in this town. She attracts a quietly nurturing maternal presence in Irene (Lynette Curran), an innkeeper who offers Heidi a musty old room in which to stay. Heidi then, much to her surprise, obtains a job at a local convenience mart. It is there she attempts, with much social awkwardness, to befriend co-worker Bianca (Hollie Andrew). Finally, she meets a young man named Joe (Sam Worthington) with whom she quickly, again awkwardly professes her love while he is barely able to communicate at all.

"Somersault" would be nothing more than your average afterschool special were it not for the mesmerizing, heartfelt performance by Cornish in the lead role. The 21-year-old actress beautifully captured young Heidi's vulnerability and sexuality with a performance of tremendous beauty and power.

Virtually all the performers here captured AFI awards, however, would be unlikely to receive similar attention in the American market. Curran is particularly strong as Irene, however, Sam Worthington is outshined considerably by a performance that seems awfully familiar to that of Heath Ledger in last year's "Brokeback Mountain." The story, perhaps groundbreaking in Australia, is seen rather often in the U.S. market even during your average Lifetime "Movie of the Week."

Cinematographer Robert Humphreys captures beautiful imagery throughout the film, however, there are moments the imagery outshines the story itself. Likewise, there are those almost embarrassingly obvious touches of symbolism such as Heidi looking at life through a pair of rose-colored glasses.

"Somersault" is not as great as 13 AFI Awards would have you believe. It falls far short of the 2005 AFI Best Film, the inventive, authentic and entertaining "Look Both Ways." "Somersault," however, features a remarkable performance from Abbie Cornish in her first feature film to obtain significant play in the American market. The film is also a bold, visionary artistic statement from Cate Shortland, and while it falls short of greatness it indicates that Shortland may well be a force to reckon with in the very near future. 
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic