Weekend Film Recommendation: Flirting

Adolescence includes aches (loneliness, alienation from adults, sexual longing) and joys (first love, treasured friendship and music). Few films have portrayed both classes of teenage experience as warmly and intelligently as the 1991 Australian film Flirting.

Due to an execrable U.S. advertising campaign, which misrepresented the film as a sniggering teen sex comedy from “those crazy blokes down under” (I cannot bring myself to post the trailer) the film barely opened in the U.S. and when it did mostly the wrong people saw it. But a precious handful of people outside of Australia have found this excellent film and continue quite properly to point others to it. Having been so blessed by a friend some years ago, I wish to pay it forward here with the strongest possible recommendation that you give this fine movie a look.

Writer-Director John Duigan sets his story in two boarding schools that stare at each other (like their residents) across a lovely lake. In the boys’ school, anxious, stammering Danny Embling (sweetly played by Noah Taylor) is being ground down by sadistic masters and bullying classmates. Meanwhile, a student from Uganda, Thandiwe Adjewa (a strong, luminous Thandie Newton), is getting a cold welcome at the girls’ school. Yet as is so often the case, the underdogs attract a stout friend or two, and are also drawn irresistibly to each other. Taylor and Newton have great chemistry on screen, and you will be rooting for their budding romance from the very first.

The other central character is the alpha girl of Thandiwe’s school, played to perfection by a pre-fame Nicole Kidman. Initially imperious and frosty, she eventually reveals more accessible layers beneath, particularly in the great scene after she catches Thandiwe sneaking back into the school after a rendezvous with Danny.

Many of the plot elements and themes here are familiar (Rebel Without a Cause is one a zillion films to tread similar ground). But it wasn’t fresh plots that made Shakespeare the Immortal Bard, it was what he did with them. With its wisdom, sensitivity and wit, Flirting turns the usual coming-of-age story into an fresh and inspiring experience that is not to be missed.

Author: Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is the Esther Ting Memorial Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University and an Honorary Professor of Psychiatry at Kings College London. His research, teaching and writing have focused on addictive disorders, self-help organizations (e.g., breast cancer support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous), evaluation research methods, and public policy related to health care, mental illness, veterans, drugs, crime and correctional systems. Professor Humphreys' over 300 scholarly articles, monographs and books have been cited over thirteen thousand times by scientific colleagues. He is a regular contributor to Washington Post and has also written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Monthly, San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian (UK), The Telegraph (UK), Times Higher Education (UK), Crossbow (UK) and other media outlets.

3 thoughts on “Weekend Film Recommendation: Flirting”

  1. Good golly – I haven’t seen ‘Flirting’ since its release, when I was still in my late teens, but I remember it quite fondly.

    ‘Flirting’ was the sequel to 1987’s ‘The Year My Voice Broke’, which I didn’t like the first time I saw it – maybe because it hit too close to home (some female schoolfriends at the time telling me that Noah Taylor’s Danny reminded them of me didn’t help either). Later, though, I came to appreciate ‘Broke’ a lot, and the closing scene in particular is quietly devastating.

    I immediately liked ‘Flirting’, though. Compared to ‘Broke’ it has a much more fun and lighter tone, and it was great to see Danny finally get a break in life.

    ‘Flirting’ was also my introduction to Thandie Newton (deep sigh).

  2. As per Black and Blue Man.

    And the better film is ‘The Year My Voice Broke’ which is the prequel, about the director growing up in a small Australian town where his parents run the hotel (pub). A really quite telling film of growing up (comparisons to ‘Gregory’s Girl’ but that has a far far lighter tone).

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