Reviewed by Emily Komiyama
Mumblecore; the term that every aspiring filmmaker should appreciate. The film industry comes with the misconception that every production will cost you an arm, a leg and a mortgage. But with the rise of digital technology in the past 15 years, every man and his dog can now shoot on digital format. The Mumblecore movement was born back in 2002 with Andrew Bujalski’s indie film Funny Ha Ha, that focused on the post-university lives of people in their twenties. Praised for it’s realism, it spawned a decade of low-budget independent films that depicted life as it really was. And local Melbourne director Sophie Townsend has just released Australia’s first contribution to the movement.
Her directorial debut Pretty Good Friends focuses on Jules (Jenni Townsend), a woman who moves to Melbourne to get in touch with herself before turning 25. After moving in with her best friend Sam (Rain Fuller) and her partner Alex (Nathan Barillaro), both bonds and rifts begin to emerge in all the wrong places.
Jenni Townsend (no relation to Sophie) is delicious as Jules. Awkwardly hilarious and down right relatable, she brings warmth to a well fleshed out character who is experiencing the quarter-life crisis that we’ve all encountered or are yet to encounter. Fuller is fantastic as Sam, whose bubbly persona is slowly eaten away by bitterness and jealousy. Barillaro is great as her partner Alex, but the show really belongs to Townsend and Fuller, whose chemistry is electric – both in their friendship and it’s demise.
Committing to Mumblecore, Townsend shot Pretty Good Friends locally around Melbourne with just two cameras, natural lighting, a small cast and crew and a flexible screenplay (penned both by S. Townsend and Barillaro) that left the actors to their own devices. It is impossible to tell what is scripted and what is improvised here as the actors bounce off each other so well. Tom Swinburn’s cinematography is luminous and will make Melbournians extremely sentimental. Being from Perth, even I was impressed with how he captured this beautiful city, especially at nighttime.
Townsend’s exploration of the ‘emotional affair’, where a connection is undeniable but not acted upon, is uncomfortably real. Despite our best efforts, chemistry is something that words cannot hide. This is covered in such an unpretentious way that you almost forget you’re watching actors. And that is thanks to Townsend’s flawless directing and the chemistry between all three actors. Unlike many productions that try to mimic naturalism with bigger budgets, Townsend creates realism with realism. With no funding, the film is so natural and well crafted that it leaves you looking at your own life from a different angle. As a 25 year old aspiring screenwriter, also new to Melbourne, this film affected me in so many different ways. As a woman finding her way, as a writer, as a friend and as a girlfriend. I may have been the most appreciative audience member at this screening, as Townsend and her actors were present for a Q&A session afterwards.
This is the kind of film you need to see if you’re an aspiring filmmaker. For both the story and the production values. This was shot with no funding and yet is now winning awards in numerous international film festivals around the world. If you’re an artist, there is no excuse. Get writing, get directing and get cracking. Sophie Townsend should be proud that she may have just given birth to a brighter future for the Australian film industry.