Bad grammar is the order of the day in this lacklustre teen drama from Australia. And not just in the title either, the grammar of the film (its editing, its structure, its scripting) are unrelentingly awful.
It’s a shame because the film is adapted from some highly acclaimed source material. The series of books by John Marsden are so highly regarded in its native Australia that it’s taught in schools.
The story centres on Ellie Linton (Caitlin Stasey), an ordinary teenage girl having an ordinary argument with her ordinary parents about an ordinary camping trip with her ordinary friends. Have I mentioned the film was desperate to show that they’re ordinary? Just like normal teenagers? Because they are. Except that they’re not. At all.
As soon as we’re introduced to the group of Ellie’s friends who will accompany her to the countryside clearing known affectionately as ‘Hell’, it’s clear that all of the praise heaped on the book for creating realistic, identifiable teens has been hurled out of the window in favour of announcing ‘issues’, personal dramas and the like. Her friend Homer (Deniz Akdeniz), who is from a Greek immigrant family in case you couldn’t guess, is ‘the rebel’, her Catholic cousin Robyn (Ashleigh Cummings) is the dowdy one, Fiona (Phoebe Tonkin) is the sexy but naive rich kid, Lee (Chris Pang) is the love interest, while best friend Corrie (Rachel Hurd-Wood) and her boyfriend Kevin (Lincoln Lewis) provide the angsty relationship issues.
All of these headline ‘serious teen issues’ are crammed down our throat in the most inane and unbelievable way imaginable. Firstly, the setup is dire. Their faux camping trip sees each of them announce (literally in several cases) their individual ‘personalities’ and problems in a series of awkward, contrived scenes that even the most forgiving cinema fan will struggle to swallow. Then comes the big plot turn.
While they were away, their small home town of Wirrawee has been overrun by some indiscriminate Asian force bent on taking over Australia. Quite why they need to do so via the small town of Wirrawee, with its tiny bay and precarious single bridge, is never fully explained. Still, it presents certain problems to the youngsters. How do they live? Can they save their parents? Should they fight back?
All these questions are answered through a series of encounters that conveniently sees each of the members ‘come of age’ in turn. The trouble is that none of these encounters makes any sense. Lee is shot in the leg and a dentist leaves his surgery to help, patches him up, and then declares he can’t stay with them because it’s “too dangerous”. Presumably the bombed out shell of his surgery retained some of that bullet-proof panelling dentists favour? There certainly must be a reason he couldnt stay in an equally rickety building across the street. Then Lee decides his leg hurts too much for him to be pushed about in a stroller or a shopping cart as they try to sneak past soldiers, so they decide on a massive industrial digger which rans through parked cars as the invading forces shoot at Lee – who is IN THE SCOOP. Safe.
Aside from this basic plot absurdities, writer/director Stuart Beattie is just lazy in building up and escaping the dramatic tensions of war. There is actually a scene where a teenager manages to run into a big lawnmower and gash her leg. Quite how I don’t know. And yet even after these miscellaneous injuries, every one of them seems to flee successfully when in danger. Except we never know how because the director only shows the chase start, then cuts to an obscure street miles away as the teen, now ‘exhausted’ wipes his/her brow and looks over his/her shoulder for their (we can only assume) obese, diabetic and asthmatic pursuers from the army of the infirm.
It’s not even like the journey is justified by the ending. They all inevitably conclude in hackneyed scenes in which they ‘overcome’ the troubles they announce in scene 1, before (and I swear this is true) lining up in formation on a hill and pledging to fight the invading forces.
Give this one a miss.
Tomorrow, When The War Began is released in the U.K. today.
This article was first posted on April 8, 2011