After making a misjudged advance towards her mother’s boyfriend, 16-year-old Heidi (Abbie Cornish) flees her home for the small Australian ski town of Jindabyne where she begins to create a new life for herself. When she falls for Joe (Sam Worthington) her self-destructive tendencies re-surface, and her fragile new world threatens to come tumbling down. An erotic, lyrical depiction of a young girl’s sexual awakening.
eyelights: its stellar cast.
eyesores: its emotional flatness.
“When you leave you still feel her on your skin.”
‘Somersault’ is a landmark: the 2004 Australian drama is the only motion picture to have captured 13 of the 15 feature film awards at the Australian Film Institute Awards. It’s the picture that put stars Abbie Cornish and Sam Worthington in the spotlight, with both winning their respective AFI award nominations.
It tells the story of 16-year-old Heidi, who runs away from home after getting caught making out with her mom’s boyfriend. She winds up in Jindabyne, where she was once promised work, but her connection doesn’t have any recollection of her. Stuck without work or shelter, she hinges her hopes on hook-ups.
After a few false starts, she ends up meeting Joe, the son of a local farmer, who takes to her immediately but keeps her at an emotionally-safe distance. Smitten with him, Heidi must now overcome local prejudices to find herself an apartment and regular work. Then she has to find a way to get through Joe’s armour.
Frankly, as much as ‘Somersault’ was a solid film, I don’t really understand why it resonated so much with some people: aside for a few nuances, the story isn’t anything new and I didn’t think that its approach was especially novel. It also didn’t have a structure or style that made it stand out from similar films.
If anything, I found the picture emotionally flat. Though I understood what was going on with Heidi and Joe from an intellectual standpoint, I can’t say that they made me sympathize with them in any significant way. They’re both confused, as many of us are, and that‘s relatable… but what were their redeeming qualities?
Maybe that was the point. Perhaps what made the movie stand out is the fact that there wasn’t an underlying sweetness to it or a Hollywood ending. Perhaps it felt true to some people, as a portrait of a reality in smalltown Australia. Perhaps people liked that it was unblemished without being harsh or unforgiving. Perhaps.
I can’t that this spoke to me, though.
It’s nothing against the cast, either, who were all solid, credible. I enjoyed our two leads: Cornish brought a fragility and emotional neediness to the part that fully shaped Heidi, and Worthington had a thoughtfulness on his Pierce Brosnan-ish face that suggested a deeper inner life for Joe. But it wasn’t enough.
I wasn’t even biased by expectations, either, since I had no idea about its critical acclaim until after having seen the movie. I just didn’t take that much out of it and I have a strange suspicion that I won’t remember much about it with time; there wasn’t a scene or moment that left an imprint on my mind for some reason.
I will tell you one thing, though: I was stunned by just how gross the guys are in ‘Somersault’. Whenever Heidi hooked up with guys at the local bar, they would take her home (or wherever) and then just got right at it – no foreplay of any kind. Joe was an exception, naturally, but the others were stunningly awful.
All of Heidi’s interactions were crap, really: I mean, what little sympathy she earned from the motel owner went to hell because of her behaviour, she was mocked by Joe’s friends, and it took everything for her to befriend her coworker at the truck stop – only for the latter’s dad to then threaten her away.
The only softness she gets is from Joe.
In small drops.
Even he has difficult interactions with the people in his life: his dad is an emotionally-unavailable fossil who even ignores him when he breaks down before him, he’s taken for granted by his mom and his best friend is a jealous @$$hole. It’s such that he sought the attention of a gay neighbour one night after a bender.
Wasn’t Heidi’s affection enough?
The fact is that we never really explore the motivations of our characters: Why does Heidi seduce her mom’s boyfriend? Why is she always hanging her hopes on some douchey dude? Why is Joe attracted to Heidi, yet is so detached? Why does he push her away? We also barely explore their emotional lives when they inevitably part.
Again, I’m not saying that ‘Somersault’ is a bad film; it’s solid through and through and it flies by. It’s just that I wasn’t especially moved or intrigued. In real life, I’d forever worry and wonder about that lost little girl, about what the future holds for her. But as fiction, well, I wouldn’t rush to watch a follow-up to this picture.
No matter how much acclaim it garners.
Date of viewing: January 2, 2017