Hey Hey It’s Esther Blueburger


Hey Hey It's Esther Blueburger

The world has a sunnier outlook when seen from under a straw boater.

(2008) Dramedy (Monterey Media) Danielle Catanzariti, Toni Collette, Keisha Castle-Hughes, Leticia Monaghan, Christian Byers, Essie Davis, Russell Dykstra, Jonny Pasvolsky, Caitlin McDougall, Edwin Hodgeman, Cassandra Jinman. Directed by Cathy Randall

Growing up is hard enough as it is. Growing up different  and longing to be normal – well, that’s pretty much how all of us perceive our adolescence. We all aim to be accepted and to fit in, but what is normal really? And how many of us fit the description?

Esther Blueburger (Catanzariti) is a 13-year-old girl in an exclusive Australian private school who yearns for that normalcy. Her twin brother Jacob (Byers) is a complete nerd and a social horror show but at least the two get along. Esther, with her glasses and her pet duckling (a foundling she calls Normal, after what she longs to be) is a bit of an odd duck herself, awkward with her classmates. Oh and did I mention that Esther’s Jewish?

Her bat mitzvah is approaching and with reluctant pluck Esther invites her classmates to the event. Of course, none of them show and Esther is mortified. Surrounded with well-meaning but overbearing aunties and relatives, she finds refuge in a nearby alley where she finds Sunni (Castle-Hughes) having a smoke. Sunni attends a public school that has caught Esther’s eye – the students there seem far more accepting.

Esther drags Sunni to her party where she passes her off as a classmate, which reassures her emotionally distant self-centered parents (Davis, Dykstra) who haven’t a clue about the hell their daughter is going through. Sunni, however, gets it much better than they do and the girls hatch a plan. Sunni forges the signature of Esther’s parents on paperwork excusing Esther from the school for a year on an exchange program to Sweden. She then enrolls Esther in the public school, passing her off as an exchange student from Sweden. This makes Esther instantly popular.

The plan works a little too well. Soon Sunni’s friends begin to flock to Esther and ignore Sunni. Esther develops a deeper and closer relationship with Sunni’s exotic dancer mum (Collette). The relationship becomes extremely strained – and a tragedy threatens to dissolve it completely.

This coming-of-age tale arrives to us courtesy of Randall, a soap opera veteran making her feature film writing and directing debut. There are quite a few things to admire about her first movie – among them, Esther herself who has an offbeat appeal. Part of that has to do with her never-say-die attitude; part of it has to do with Catanzariti who has a natural charisma that is readily apparent. If she chooses to pursue the acting thing, she has a bright future.

Castle-Hughes who was so impressive in Whale Rider has a nice role here which is very different. She’s a bit of a tough gal with a heart of gold who at the core is much more fragile than anybody realizes. In many ways I thought her part was a bit more realistic than that of Esther; Castle-Hughes does a fine job bringing it to life.

Teen coming of age movies tend to have an overabundance of quirkiness to them, but this one tones it down to levels where it is actually a bit more realistic. Female leads in these types of movies are exceedingly rare and often have a bimbo aspect to them; this movie is refreshingly sex-free but that doesn’t mean Esther and Sunni don’t have an interest in boys. Okay, more like an obsession. Just like almost every other 13-year-old girl.

WHY RENT THIS: The movie has a goofy charm that gets under your skin.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The tragic element seems a little forced and at odds with the movie’s otherwise sunny tone.

FAMILY VALUES: There are a few thematic elements that might be inappropriate for youngsters, a few foul words here and there, some teen smoking and a teensy bit of sexual content.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Castle-Hughes was pregnant during the filming of the movie.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There’s a music video and a more interesting than usual featurette about the casting of Danielle Catanzariti as Esther and how she transformed into the role.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: Not available.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: The Joneses

City Island


City Island

The cast realizes the catering truck is serving Tuna Surprise again.

(2009) Comedy (Anchor Bay) Andy Garcia, Julianna Margulies, Steven Strait, Emily Mortimer, Alan Arkin, Dominick Garcia-Lorido, Ezra Miller, Carrie Baker Reynolds, Hope Glendon-Ross, Louis Mustillo, Jee Young Han, Sarah Saltzberg. Directed by Raymond de Felitta

Families have dynamics that are often much more complicated than you think they are – or than they have to be. You’d think the dynamics are simple with the people who know you best, but often family members conceal things from other members and before long, you find that they are living lives much different than they let on to their own flesh and blood.

Vince Rizzo (Garcia) is a prison guard who dreams of being an actor. He and his family live on City Island, a spit of land jutting out from the Bronx that has more in common with a New England fishing village than the Big Apple. Embarrassed by his dream, he takes acting lessons in the City at night, telling his wife Joyce (Margulies) that he’s out playing poker with the boys. She’s convinced he’s having an affair.

Vivian (Garcia-Lorido) is the pride and joy of Vince and Joyce, a college girl with a bright future ahead of her. At least, that’s what they think; in reality Vivian has dropped out and is stripping in clubs to make enough cash to pay her own way through school when she’s ready to re-apply. Her brother Vinnie (Miller) has a thing for Internet porn, particularly watching overweight women eat. Yes, a chubby chaser – deal with it.

Vince sees one of the parole candidates where he works is a young man named Tony (Strait) whose last name sounds familiar. When he looks into his file more thoroughly he is shocked to discover that Tony is the son he had with a woman other than Joyce. Tony has no place to go so Vince volunteers to put him up when Tony gets out.

Joyce of course has no clue about Tony’s paternity, nor does Tony for that matter. She’s predictably unhappy about having an ex-con in the house and lets all and sundry know about it. However her frustration at Vince’s secretive behavior is beginning to blow over. Vince’s acting coach (Arkin) has assigned the class into pairs to work on a scene together. Molly (Mortimer), Vince’s partner and he begin to meet up after class – strictly platonically – and Joyce stumbles into their relationship accidentally, believing the worst. Feeling hurt, she comes on to the hunky ex-con in an effort to get revenge. Things are spiraling out of control, especially when Vince is called in for an audition for a role in a Scorsese movie.

This is a movie with a lot of heart, and a lot of soul. Yes, dysfunctional families with lots of idiosyncrasies are staples of comedies but here they aren’t quirks for the sake of quirkiness. These are genuine people, who genuinely care about one another even if they aren’t always able to display it properly. Their bickering sounds like any family and they capture the cadences of a Northeastern Italian-American family perfectly.

Garcia has always been an actor I’ve liked ever since The Untouchables and he’s at his best here. He plays blue collar as well as anybody (his role as the Casino king in the Oceans movies notwithstanding) and he brings Vince’s hopes and dreams to life as well as his failings. Margulies has never been sexier than she is here. This is a role a bit out of her comfort zone, particularly when she’s attempting to seduce Tony but that scene is one of the highlights of the movie and gives you a great deal of insight into Joyce and her bitterness – only a consummate actress like Margulies could have pulled it off.

Mortimer is another actress who has quietly built up a reputation for terrific performances and although she’s not utilized extensively here, she shines in every scene she’s in. She acts as a kind of outsider’s view, not quite part of the community but understanding it.

The filmmakers are successful at establishing a place and time. City Island, which is a real place by the way, comes to life as do the people who live there. Their lives aren’t particularly less or more wonderful than yours or mine, but the way that de Felitta presents them, I think most people wouldn’t mind the life they find onscreen here.

WHY RENT THIS: There is an authentic feeling here that gives you a sense of place and family. The family interacts less like a sitcom family and more like a real one. Garcia, Mortimer and Margulies give fine performances.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: A few too many revelations near the end.

FAMILY VALUES: There is some sexual content (including a bit on the fetish-y side) and some inappropriate language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Dominick Garcia-Lorido, who plays Andy Garcia’s daughter in the movie, is…Andy Garcia’s actual daughter.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $7.9M on a $6M production budget; the movie lost money.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2