Having grown up with her mother in Nevada, Heidi (Rachael Taylor) hasn't spoken to her father since she was seven. Now a young woman and haunted by his memory, she returns to Australia for his funeral. Hitchhiking towards Mildura, she gets a lift from orange grove owner Michael (Alex Dimitriades). Fleeing to Michael's orange grove after the family reunion turns sour, Heidi finds it a haven and is soon immersed in the colourful surrounds and offbeat characters of the citrus pickers. However, when Heidi drops her guard and reveals her feelings, Michael struggles to reciprocate. He, too, is haunted by his past.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
This could have made a neat little romantic novel for the airport, its largely internal and emotional world best captured in prose, with the reader's imagination acting as the director. Its characters are underwritten for the screen, its dramatic tension limited to a few moments and its storyline paper thin. It doesn't pass muster even if you are kind enough to call it subtle or nuanced or gentle or delicate ... it just doesn't engage us, not even with a sideshow of a game of pool with fisticuffs to follow.
Plagued by inexplicable choices in editing, the film floats on its own currents like a rudderless paper boat as Heidi (Rachael Taylor) makes her way to Mildura from Nevada - with the least luggage I've ever seen. Just as well, though, because she has to walk and hitch when her money runs out half way through her long taxi ride, taken to avoid having to wait hours for a train (if she's broke, why didn't she check the fare first?).
Rachael Taylor is likeable enough as Heidi, but there isn't much to her character, other than she plays the violin, an instrument she carries with her, a gift from her father. Estranged all these years, she shows remarkable sentiment for him, but has her excuses not making contact. We don't even discover what line of work she is in, but at one stage she mentions she does have a job to go back to.
She arrives late at the funeral, makes little effort to pay her respects and leaves before it's over; these actions go against her stated feelings and he effort to get there. Susie Porter plays her father's second wife, rouged up to make her look a bit cheap, and they don't bond. But there is a spark with her half brother Lachlan (Reef Ireland - impressive), not that this link goes anywhere.
As for her connection with Michael (Alex Dimitriades), it's certainly slow and subtle - and is without screen chemistry. Perhaps Dimitriades is directed to play vanilla (sit or lie doing nothing when alone) as a way to convey his ongoing pain, generated by a secret trauma which emerges late in the film, to very little impact. There's very little of real import at stake in this screenplay, and neither the score nor the opportunistic cinematography (but well done) can inject more juice into it.
Review by Louise Keller:
Picturesque rural Victoria is the setting for Richard Gray's debut feature about families, secrets and oranges. An orange farm in Mildura is where most of the action takes place, offering ample opportunities for cinematographer Greg De Marigny to capture the ambiance of fruit-laden trees laden, tangerine sunsets and unspoilt river banks where a group of fruit-pickers camp. They, like the idyllic surroundings, provide a canvass for the central story of a hitchhiker from Nevada and the orange-farmer who gives her a ride. While the story arc is too slight to keep our interest for the entire running time, there's a nice mood about the film and the two leads have charisma.
With her blond hair casually swept back in a pony tail, a leather bag strapped around her shoulders and a violin case in hand, Rachael Taylor's Heidi is hitchhiking along the long, lonely stretch of highway. Taylor is impressive in the role, making small moments count. Mildura is not ON the way, but not OUT of his way, Michael (Alex Dimitriades, excellent) tells her when he gives her a lift in his predictably orange pick-up truck. Like the film's ambling story, Heidi and Michael's relationship begins slowly, neither offering much insight about themselves or their lives.
Little by little, we learn more about them, although the road-stop and game of snooker feels stage managed. There's the funeral that is the reason for Heidi's visit (badly handled) and the inner conflict she feels for unresolved issues (also badly handled). Black and white flashback sequences are less than successful. Michael too, has unresolved issues, which we slowly discover, as Heidi becomes a guest in his sprawling bungalow whose vines drape artistically over the veranda eaves, beyond the huge, old gum tree at the entrance of the driveway. These too, are not well handled.
There are holes in Gray's screenplay including the way the fruit-pickers are incorporated into the storyline. It's easy to understand the camaraderie between them as they pick their quota of oranges between frivolity, drinks and midnight dips in the river, but their best-friend relationship with Michael feels contrived. As for the relationship between Heidi and Michael, it feels forced (and chemistry-free) as they explore their emotional angst.
Cameos by Susie Porter and Jackie Weaver are thrown away, but Reef Ireland does a nice job as Heidi's half-brother Lachlan. The film is far too long however, and would benefit from sharp editing.
Loss, regret, guilt and letting go are some of the themes expressed as reluctances are forsaken and hopes for the future are embraced. More successful as portraying a slice of life than a drama with emotional ballast, Summer Coda is a pleasant enough encounter although never resonates strongly enough to satisfy.
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ALEX DIMITRIADES INTERVIEW
SUMMER CODA (M)
CAST: Rachael Taylor, Alex Dimitriades, Susie Porter, Jacki Weaver, Nathan Phillips, Angus Sampson, Cassandra Magrath
PRODUCER: John Finemore, Marc Goldenfein, Richard Gray
DIRECTOR: Richard Gray
SCRIPT: Richard Gray
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Greg De Marigny
EDITOR: Gary Woodyard
MUSIC: Alies Sluiter
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Emma Fletcher
RUNNING TIME: 113 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Sharmill & Jump Street
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: October 21, 2010