When Mike’s English teacher pairs him up for a class assignment on Romeo and Juliet with the new kid William, Mike can’t believe his luck. However as the two spend more and more time working together on a monster movie version of the Bard’s classic tale, they both soon realize their feelings for one another may be more powerful than either of them is truly ready for. (Imdb)
Monster Pies is the second feature film from “Indie Melbourne Productions” and filmmaker Lee Galea. The film was shot all over the western suburbs of Melbourne and is now in Post-Production.
The primary reason Monster Pies works so well is that it isn’t afraid to take the coming out tale for what it is. Galea doesn’t shy away from the clichés, he embraces them and in doing so he follows the formula with almost ritualistic surety. Awkward film obsessed highschooler, Mike (Tristan Barr), lives with his single mother (Rohana Hayes), works in the local video store and spend the majority of his time with his plumpish, similarly awkward best friend, Jenine (Katrina Maree). New, hot, highschooler, Will (Lucas Linehan), joins his class and he and Mike get lumped together (ever so unfortunately!) to complete a monster movie reworking of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ for their class project… From there, you can probably map out the story for yourself.
There’s no denying the set up is a familiar one, but Monster Pies’ trades off that familiarity effectively, even to the point of setting the film back in the 90s. In doing so, Galea doesn’t just gain access to some quietly executed nostalgia, he also cleverly sidesteps having to deal with the more self-assured sexual identities of many of today’s youngsters. Monster Pies, like all of the best coming out films (including Beautiful Thing) aims for some subtle extremes: there’s the inner city, lower socio-economic setting (here Melbourne’s inner west); abusive and absent fathers; dependent mothers and bullying students.
The beauty of coming out films is that all it takes is a single spark to make all this feel completely new and this is exactly what makes Monster Pies stand out amidst all of this commonality: the electricity of its young leads.
Individually, Linehan and Barr are knockouts, but together they nail the queer highschooler experience almost perfectly. Their distinct characters complement each other: Will is self-confident on the outside but hollowed of self-worth by his father’s constant abuse; Mike is painfully ill-at-ease but also carries himself as a young man who has nothing left to lose, at least not when it comes to his reputation. Both the boys have something to learn from the other and Linehan and Barr are able to capture this complementarity effortlessly. It really sets them apart, almost as if they exist in another film entirely. After recognising their mutual attraction in a wonderfully delivered pool scene (complete with gratuitously wet underwear), their only real concern is the turmoil that is churning inside of them and how merely being in each other’s presence settles and centres them. In fact, their chemistry is so strong that it not only centres their performances but also the film as a whole.
Galea has clearly recognised both this chemistry and the unflappable backbone it provides his film and he has wrung every inch of performance out of them. Their casting, especially that of Linehan, whose laconic intensity should take him at least as far as Sam Worthington (whom he matches in looks and trumps on charisma), is easily Monster Pies’ greatest coup, but it does come at a cost. In the face of such magnetic performances, some of the film’s peripheral characters do feel a little underdeveloped. The same is true of the film’s narrative structure.
Though the central love story is not without its hiccoughs (there are a few moments where the boys’ their personal struggles don’t quite flow from previous scenes), it manages to survive thanks to its well-observed truthfulness. The conflict that comes at the boys from the flanks though: the best friend’s jealousy, the father’s brutality, and a random video store customer’s misplaced infatuation, doesn’t feel quite as well handled. Galea’s attempt to capture the extended lives of both his protagonists, while admirably ambitious, brings a slightly chaotic feel to the film’s second half. There is no doubt that these secondary conflicts add to the film’s complexity, it is just that their impact, in relation to the central narrative, would have benefited from some judicious tightening. It is a delicate balance though. Some of the film’s most questionable turns end up leading onto its most laudable and emotionally affecting successes.
Ultimately, this narrative jumble is par for the course for micro-budget films. Remarkably for Monster Pies, it is one of the few areas where Galea reveals just how leanly he’s pulled the film together. His film looks like a fully stocked feature; it certainly didn’t feel out of place in the festival lineup, even next to features made on a hundred times the budget. The shots are well composed and Galea and his cinematographer, Daniel von Czarnecki, have managed to capture something distinctly Melbourne in their lighting. Even the film’s night scenes, which customarily wear the most distinct marks of a tighter budget, feel tonally rich.
What is most impressive though is the promise Galea reveals when he gives himself some space in the narrative. There are some incredibly quiet, personal scenes that add a palpable and very beautiful texture to his film. Even some of the later, narrative-driven moments (the boys’ video project and some touching closure from the school bully) have an emotional impact far beyond what many would have expected. All of this fills me with anticipation for Galea’s next feature, which on the basis of this film will surely find considerable backing.
Monster Pies is a film that not only captures the monumental, life-changing emotions that wash over us as we struggle out of the closet but also wraps them in a very recognisable social landscape. It isn’t new, just like ‘Romeo and Juliet’ isn’t new but, like Shakespeare’s play, we feel compelled to relive it nonetheless. It is a big ask but it would be nice to think that Monster Pies will be as important some young kid as previous coming out films were to me. Judging by the audience’s reaction at the film’s premiere, it is a distinct possibility.
Hold on to your flyers, Lee. (Michael Scott, cuedotconfessions.it)