Sydney Film Festival Review: Teenage Kicks (Australia, 2016)

Craig Boreham’s beautifully filmed coming of age tale Teenage Kicks is a film that leaves you thinking long after the final credits have rolled. Writing this review two days after the film had its world premiere at the Sydney Film Festival I find myself still grappling with its expert exploration of cultural and sexual identities in contemporary society. The fact it was created on a shoestring budget only makes it all the more impressive.

The film stars Miles Szanto as Miklos (“Mik”) a migrant teen in the throes of dealing with his awakening sexuality and his growing love for his best friend Dan (Daniel Webber). The inseparable duo’s plans to run away together are put to a halt following the tragic death of Mik’s older brother Tomi (Nadim Kobeissi), and are further complicated by the news of Dan’s new girlfriend (Charlotte Best) and Mik’s feelings of responsibility to his brother’s heavily pregnant girlfriend (Shari Sebbans).

Though the plot is minimal, and its execution at times came off as a bit flawed (a sub plot of Mik hanging with a bunch of Kings Cross dope heads came off as a tad random), Teenage Kicks is a near masterful depiction of ‘teenage hood’, a time where the responsibilities and realities of the adult world begin creeping in and your decisions can have dire consequences. Indeed, Mik does not handle this reality well, and one could argue that his actions in the film consist of a series of catastrophic missteps, but that seems to be the point.

As Boreham writes in his press notes of the film, it is an exploration of “that ‘in-between’ phase that we all go through. That cusp moment between teen and adult when the world can turn on its head every single day and you are still trying to find where you fit in the scheme of things. Teenage Kicks is an in-your-face, raw look at that time and the issues and struggles these young characters go through when they come crashing toward adulthood.”

Where Teenage Kicks succeeds is in its depiction of Mik’s developing sexuality. Boreham stated in a Q&A session at the screening that his inspiration for the film comes from his time as a youth worker at a refuge for LGBT teens, and his strong affinity to the subject matter shows. It is a frank and honest depiction, reminiscent of last year’s similarly themed Holding the Man, and it doesn’t hold back on the struggles that come with such a sexual awakening. The fact Mik’s sexual identity serves as a catalyst for the film’s tragic beginning only proves this.

In the wake of horrific events such as those that recently unfolded in Orlando, films like Teenage Kicks are only more vital. To give a voice to the issues that the queer community face on a daily basis is hugely important, and I look forward to seeing the stories which Craig Boreham shares on this topic in the years to come.

Review score: THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Teenage Kicks screened as part of the Sydney Film Festival.