Beautiful, sexy e seems to have it all. A popular DJ at the top Sydney gay nightclubs, e has her pick of the girls. Matt, her flamboyant manager and best friend, makes her stunning outfits and creates a stylish home for them both. Life is sweet.
But looks can be deceiving – e is living a double life. Too scared to come out to her traditional migrant parents, e married Matt, a gay Irish dress designer, to give him a visa and provide cover for her sexuality. It didn’t work. Her mother is heartbroken: e shamed the family by not inviting them to her wedding. Even worse, she dropped out of a prestigious music college for life in the clubs.
One day e and Matt stumble across a suitcase of cash and fantasize about opening their own club. Too late they realize the money belongs to dangerous sociopath Johnny Rock, a powerful underworld figure and owner of the club where e spins her grooves.
e and Matt go on the run pursued by Johnny and his thugs. To avoid certain death there is only one safe place to go: outback Australia and into the arms of e’s ex, Trish. But e is scared. Trish turned her back on e, the drugs, and the city life. Down to earth and straightforward, Trish left because of e’s inability to be to true to herself or tell her parents the truth about their relationship. Devastated, e vowed to never let another woman into her heart.
In order to stay alive, e has to learn to face up to her past. She has to give her family the chance to accept who she really is and find the courage to live her dreams.
Like every genre of storytelling on the big and small screens, LGBT narratives are not without their cliches. Unfortunately, the strongest trope in queer media seems to misfortune – whether it’s bullying, unrequited love, parental disapproval or greater tragedies.
But All About E seems determined to shatter every preconceived idea about both the stories of LGBT characters and stories told down under. This delightfully unexpected Australian indie, the debut feature from homegrown production company Girls Own Pictures, is a triumphantly original, consistently exciting film and a wonderful feature film debut for writer/director Louise Wadley.
E (Mandahla Rose) is the hottest DJ in town and appears to have it all – but she’s never found the courage to come out to her traditionalist migrant parents (Kim Antonios Hayes, Lex Marinos), who are unimpressed that she gave up classical music for the club scene. When E ends up with a suitcase full of cash that belongs to dangerous thug Johnny Rock (Simon Bolton), she ends up on the run with her best mate Matt (Brett Rogers) – and seeking shelter from Trish (Julia Billington), the love of her life, who couldn’t deal with the stress of hiding their relationship.
All About E resists any attempt to fit tidily into a genre – is it a romance? A thriller? A family drama? A road movie? A hilarious comedy? It’s all of these things and more! While you could argue that it could have done without one or two of its genre diversions, by some miracle, it all fits together with ease, making it impossible to guess which direction the film will head in next – all too rare, and incredibly exciting to find, in stories on the big screen. The film carries some of the unavoidable hallmarks of low-budget filmmaking – almost completely confining itself to interior settings until E and Matt hit the road – but when this kind of economy allows such a wildly entertaining story to emerge, it’s something you’re more than happy to forgive.
The cast are uniformly excellent; Mandahla Rose as E carries the film with ease – she brings E to life as a wonderfully complex heroine, apparently having it all but with darker secrets gradually revealing themselves. Rose shares wonderful chemistry with Julia Billington as her old flame Trish – a lesbian romance thankfully lacking in self-loathing or tragedy – and effortlessly floats between happy and sad moments with Brett Rogers as best friend Matt.
A genre bending queer film that I couldn’t be prouder to say is homegrown, All About E is an engaging debut feature that serves as a brilliant showcase for all involved. It’s quite unlike anything you’ve seen before or will likely see again – but hey, if you find another lesbian thriller comedy romance that involves a road trip and a getaway in a light plane, please give me a call. I hope it’s half as good as this.
(Alexandra Donald, iris.theaureview.com)
“I want to create complex heroines who have a lot going on,” writer/director Louise Wadley tells FilmInk when we interview the filmmaker about her debut feature, All About E, which is premiering at the Mardi Gras Film Festival. “I’ve been wanting to do a film about a heroine like E for a long time. I wanted to do something about a flawed character who was carrying a lot of things, but from the outside seemed to have everything. What I want people to think when they see E is that she’s having the most amazing time, and it’s just about starting one thing, and trying to bring people around to another way.”
All About E opens with the vibrant and energetic scene of a gay-club in Sydney’s King Cross, as sexy, in-demand DJ, E (played by the captivating Mandahla Rose), holds up her set with a casual hook-up in the club’s bathroom. When she finally appears on her throne, her Queendom goes ecstatic, and E laps up the love from her adoring fans. “E’s a really cocky little bugger,” Wadley tells us, “a lot of people have said to me ‘I wanted to slap E for the first half hour of the film.’” But when E and Irishman Matt (Brett Rogers), her best friend, manager and husband (they married to keep him in Australia and as a front for her family) happen upon a drug-ring’s duffle bag of cash, they find themselves on the run and the complications of her seemingly trouble-free life become exposed.
All About E is part thriller, part road-movie and part love story, and Wadley enjoys blurring genres and subverting conventions. “Instead of the guy being the love rat, the girl is the love rat.” E and Matt struggle to find a place to hide out, the doors are closed, womaniser E has burnt too many bridges and broken too many hearts. However, we’re privy to glimpses of another E via flashback sequences that explore her past relationship with Trish. E is a tender and loving partner, but can’t face telling her migrant Lebanese parents that she’s gay. Their relationship falters under this pressure, with down-to-earth Trish refusing to be a part of E’s games to hide her identity. “There’s a lot of pressure on her and those expectations and dreams of parents can be very daunting,” Wadley says, “and it’s very hard to be authentic to yourself if you feel those pressures.”
While the film’s a compelling ride, Wadley’s hoping the underlying themes will kickstart conversation. “Australians don’t talk about race and class very much in a way that’s comfortable,” the filmmaker says, “but the hunger from the audience is there.” Wadley and her partner Jay Rutovitz have seen that hunger in action, having raised a significant contribution to the film through crowd-funding site Pozible. All About E will have a forty-cinema release through cinema-on-demand site Tugg, through which patrons can request screenings of films, and after a certain number of tickets have sold the screening is guaranteed, democratising distribution by showing cinemas there is a demand for alternative product. “I do think that Tugg is going to be a game-changer here in Australia. The regions don’t get to see this stuff, and this way they will!”
Wadley’s script for All About E was selected for the Outfest Screenwriting Lab in Los Angeles, a mentoring program for script development (“they were very loving, but very tough”). Wadley found the advice of screenwriter Michelle Mulroney (Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows) particularly helpful. “She challenged me all the time – saying, yes, a scene is okay, but does it do everything it could?” The reworked script was then presented in a stage reading at the Directors Guild. “You’re divorced from your baby… They cast and they direct it, and you watch what’s happening.” The presentation went well, and for a time it looked like Wadley might film in the US, but the landscape called her home. “I kept being drawn back to Australia… The idea of being able to go from the city to the outback, and the worlds in between. I think it all came together with being here.”
As we traverse from the city, to the suburbs to the country, the pace of the story shifts. “E becomes more herself in that landscape. We see the kind of Aussie battler out on the farm kind of character type, but I also wanted to show that E could be comfortable in that.” The country setting also provided some “trying circumstances” when it came to filming a long love scene between the two leads, in 45 degree heat. It was “so overheated the camera broke.” Wadley wanted to create a sex scene that felt authentic. “It’s talked about a lot in the lesbian community, that there are very few films where it feels like it’s believable when they see sex on screen… I wanted to do something that was realistic but also very beautiful.”
Wadley stresses that All About E “is not ‘a lesbian film’ or ‘a film about lesbians’. It’s everything. We are everything.” (Ellen Becker, filmink.com.au)