Tan Lines Review
It’s the summer holidays in small town Australia, where all the kids have to sustain them for weeks on end is surfing, skateboarding and parties. It should be everything a teenager could want, but sixteen year old Midget (Baxter) is looking for something more. When Cass (O’Leary), his best friend’s brother, returns to town four years after leaving under a cloud, Midget is attracted to this exotic prodigal son, and the pair begin a passionate relationship that will teach Midget a few things about life.
As gay themed coming of age stories go, Tan Lines is some way from the top of the pile, certainly nowhere near as strong or emotionally involving as something like Summer Storm. Still, compared to the supremely tedious likes of Gus Van Sant’s upcoming Paranoid Park, it at least presents us with a relatable group of characters without too much pretension or affectation, elevated by a remarkably mature performance from Jack Baxter as Midget.
But the debit column stacks up as well, with more than one weak performance, sub par cinematography, and some fairly familiar themes in its universal tale of small town boredom and sexual confusion. As though sensing the sparseness of his story, writer/director Ed Aldridge tries to dress it up with tricksy editing and self-consciously quirky supporting characters. Perhaps trying to channel David Lynch into Home & Away, he has a seemingly overwhelming need to make the townsfolk as oddball or just plain weird as possible. Midget sleeps in the same bed as his mother, and just wait until you see what his summer job entails.
He could just as easily have shaved fifteen minutes from the running time by dropping some of the eccentricity and concentrating more on Midget’s journey. He’s a terrific character, intelligent and sensitive, but impudent and forthright at the same time, and why he’s attracted to the selfish and hard to like Cass is initially difficult to gauge. But it soon becomes clear that, amidst the soul crushing provincialism of his existence, Cass represents a lifestyle and a freedom that he’s just never known, and it’s probably this ideal that he falls for, as much as Cass himself.
Though not overly graphic, the sex scenes are intense and the film will doubtless be marginalised because of its subject matter. This is a bit of a shame as it really could be a film for anyone who's ever been confused about love, gay or otherwise, though I suspect gay audiences might get even more from it if they're more able to relate to Midget's situation. Ultimately though, what lets Tan Lines down the most is the feeling that you’ve probably seen it all before.
The anamorphic transfer offers a variable viewing experience. Flesh tones struggle due to the fact that Tan Lines is a very poorly lit film, so bright scenes are full of shine and glare, with no depth to the picture and everyone looking like they’re made of wax. At the other side of the spectrum, darker scenes are murky and grainy and lacking in detail. This makes for a lot of irritating contrasts from scene to scene, with the occasional sharp and clear daylit indoor scene surrounded by too many others that simply aren’t good enough.
The stereo audio track is perfectly adequate, delivering clear enough dialogue but lacking in direction or depth. The surfing scenes would have been a good opportunity to do something memorable with a 5.1 soundtrack, but the stereo just doesn’t do them justice, although what we get is strong enough, if a little on the flat side. Music fares better during the partying, with bold delivery, even if the LFE channel doesn’t get the chance to offer anything.
Extras are a bit on the mean side, but what’s here is of reasonable quality. First up is a twelve minute audition reel that offers quite a nice insight into the working process, with several of the cast members, as well as others who didn’t get roles, improvising scenes and playing different characters. There’s also six minutes of grainy camcorder footage of the Sydney premiere of the film, with the cast members reuniting, an introduction from the director and some after-show party, but it’s not much to get excited about.