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OZ CINEMA
Your guide to Australian film.
By Joshua Smith

Puberty Blues - All Too Real

Author: Joshua Smith
Published on: May 12, 1998

Leading Players: Nell Schofield (Debbie), Jad Capelja (Sue), Geoff Rhose (Garry), Tony Hughes (Danny), Sandy Paul (Tracey), Leander Brett (Cheryl), Jay Hackett (Bruce), Ned Lander (Strach), Joanne Olsen (Vicki), Julie Medana (Kim), Charles Tingwell (The Headmaster)

Main Crew: prod, Joan Long & Margaret Kelly; dir, Bruce Beresford; writ, Margaret Kelly (based on the novel by Kathy Lette and Gabrielle Carey); dop, Don McAlpine; ed, William Anderson, Jeanine Chialvo; mus, Les Gock, Tim Finn; prod d, David Copping; cos, Sue Armstrong

A gradual evolution of Bruce Beresford's series of sexploitation films of the 1970s, Puberty Blues (1981) grants the audience a voyeuristic insight into the private lives of a small group of Australians, which can be viewed as representational of the whole nation's sexual awakening.

Puberty Blues traces the lives of two adolescent females who have spent the first part of their lives in a group by themselves, while desperately trying to break into the "in" group who dominated the Greenhill beach. Once they are accepted into the group, they realise that the group's laid-back, ultra-cool fašade is just that: a glossy cover-up. The main protagonist, Debbie (Nell Schofield) and her life-long companion Sue (Jad Capelja) fall into all of the group's vices, including drug-usage and casual sex. At first, they willingly present themselves to the males of the group as virtual slaves, ready to serve their pre-chosen lover's every need. Soon, though, the girls grow tired of occupying the victim role, and they work to regain respect and equality.

Though the film's feminist undercurrent fails to make itself explicit until the final scene in which the two women prove their worth occupying a male's role, sexism runs rife throughout the film. It is interesting to note that the school Headmaster (Charles Tingwell), when lecturing Debbie, behaves in a manner equally as sexist and offensive as the under-educated males who lead the A-group. This, along with Debbie's boyfriend's admission that his mother made a set of curtains for the back of his panel van, indicates that the juvenile's behaviour was not a new thing, but was the result of the children receiving their worldview from people who were equally as discriminatory.

The novel on which the film is based was written by a pair of teenaged women, and its biographical qualities have been transferred effectively to the screen through Bruce Beresford's frank, social realist direction of the film. The crass, raw mise-en-scene and screenplay are confronting to the point to which the film appears at times to enter the documentary realm, lending the story a great deal more power to affect.

Puberty Blues, like many films seen to belong to the teen film sub-genre, was largely ignored by the critical community at the time of its release, and thought of as a comedy. In hindsight, the film can be read as both a dark, brooding, analysis of Australia's attempts to break away from its colonial heritage and as one of Australia's most confronting and honest feminist works.

 
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