Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Review: Hating Alison Ashley

OK, I saw Hating Alison Ashley (the movie) on TV last Friday and I've been busting to write a review, while at the same time knowing I ought to hold back because there was just way too much venom.

Firstly, I should add a disclaimer - I didn't watch the whole movie - i saw up to the bit where Barry Hollis and Erica are caught by the phone at night at school camp. Fans of the book should also know aht I'm referring to. They will also be disappointed to know it's not nearly as funny as the book.

"Not nearly as funny as the book" could have been the tagline for this movie.

Hating Alison Ashley, the popular book by Robin Klein, was a success because of its beautifully drawn characters - but most of all its humour. Getting inside Erica Yurken's head was marvellously done, on paper. And the stage play doesn't do a bad job either, which means that it's not as if this book could not be translated by actors and still retain its liveliness, humour, and cleverness.

The storyline is like this:

Erica (Erk/Yuk) lives in the culturally disadvantaged area of Barringa East. While there are losers and delinquents all through tthe area, she believes she's destined for better things - a glittering career on the stage. She thinks she's naturally above all the riff-raff in her suburb.

Then one day, due to rezoning, Alison Ashley turns up at her school. Alison lives in the picture perfect suburb outside Barringa East, and is quiet, well-behaved, good-looking, healthy, rich, and intelligent. Suddenly Erk realises that she has competition. She teeters between hating Alsion and wanting to be like her.

The action culminates at school camp, and the school play is where Erk decides to show off her acting skills and put down Alison once and for all.

I found Erk's mother, and possibly Erk's older sister Valjoy, about the best drawn characters in the whole movie. The common, cheap, gaudy but loving Aussie mother came across nicely, and the gothic, nightclubbing older sister worked well.

Erica and Miss Belmont, her teacher, I felt were played competently by Saskia Burmeister and Jean Kittson - however they grated, possibly because they were far more comical and poignant in the book, as main characters - but this I felt had more to do with a lousy script than the actors themselves.

Delta Goodrem ... WHY cast Delta as Alison, except for the desire to preserve her goody goody image and get her a screen role?

It looked all wrong. Firstly, Klein's book was written set in 6th grade, the movie moved it to 9th grade (a mistake, I felt, because it lost some of the childish liveliness and innocence behind jokes and attempted to go for innuendo and sex). However, even so, Delta looks like a 20 year old in the movie, not a 9th grader. Her attemps at playing Alison a the goody goody made her look more like one of those girls in an American High School playing a role about sexual revelation.

Yes, I know sometimes in movies they choose much older people to play High School students, but then they usually get all the actors to look similar. Delta stood out like a sore thumb as the oldie.

Then, there was too much narrative used. If the movie was better directed and acted, we wouldn't need Erk giving us somewhat annying and meaningless narrative explaining things to us - and what narrative she gave us wasn't particularly well scripted so it slid in cleverly or provided good background. It stuck out like a sore thumb "I'm telling you this because I think you can't see it on screen"

There were some clever screen techniques used, but not enough for them to become a winning feature on the film. For instance, Scrubs-like dream sequences where Erk imagines the world in a more "dramatic" way could have made the movie funny. This was done about twice or three times that I saw - fairly well, but didn't become enough of a feature to be really funny.

Craig McLachlan tried to be funny. Enough said.

I thought Lennie was too tryhard rather than just likable.

Some of the best sequences showing rivalry were cut - for instance, the photo competition, being shown Alison's place, and Erk got way too hysterical far too easily instead of there being the comedy of a built up rivalry, each trying to outdo the other, and then a showdown or a haughty silence.

Yes, you could have a very different experience if you hadn't read the book first - it could just be another fun romp of rather funny characters (I admit that Craig McLachlan pays a dopey teacher, which is just his style) who get mad at each other. Miss Belmont would would probably be very amusing. If you're a Delta fan you might enjoy it, too.

Just don't expect faithfulness in any way to the book, including tone or humour. Which is what I so valued about it in the first place.

And since I know so much of the book by heart, I would get to scenes ... and watch them deviate into stuff I thought was so much less funny.

(Must say Margeart Collins was quite amusingly characterised)

It was so painful I switched off.

Oh yes, That Barry Hollis scene at the phonebooth was clever in the book. I squirmed as they mished it in the movie and made it look like Barry might ... even ... kiss Erk?



Maria said...

Mr Coffee has just commented on the verbosity of this review.

Really, given the venom I was spewing after I switched this off ... I feel I've been quite restrained!

There was just so much to whinge about!

Why oh why did you butcher a beautiful book!

nailpolishblues said...

I debated on whether or not to see the movie. I've so far managed to procrastinate my way out of a decision.

I think I need to read this book. Again.

maria said...

I can always find a good reason to read the book again and again.

From now on, I've got an extra good reason to not watch the movie ever again.