This week’s film gives our feelings a break for once as we are transported to an oddly surreal dream world that may or may not be real, aka high school in 1970s Australia.
A girl’s 15th birthday party goes from awkwardly cringey to bizarrely surreal when a magical music box opens to another realm.
Greta has recently started at a new school and, rather than trying to make friends, seems to be trying her best to keep a low profile. Her plan fails when she is approached by two separate groups: first, Elliot (who is adorable and relatably enthusiastic about donuts), and then the stereotypical “cool” girls. Both groups want to fold her into their embrace, but Greta seems afraid to speak up about who she’d rather be friends with (though I’d usually encourage girls to stick together…always pick the friendship that begins with donuts).
Life at home seems fairly harmonious at first, but almost immediately the cracks begin to show. Greta’s father is constantly making terrible dad jokes and trying to stop his youngest child from growing up. Her mother throws her attention on her daughters as she doesn’t seem to like her husband’s sense of humor–or anything about him as a matter of fact. Greta’s older sister Genevieve throws the delicate balance off completely by coming home late with a really smooth boyfriend who smokes and tries to give off a bit of a James Dean vibe.
After school, Greta invites Elliott over and shows him her favorite thing, a music box passed on to her from her mother. She likes to imagine it’s from a secret realm. Hmmmmmmm…I wonder if perhaps this plot detail will be important in about 20 minutes.
Greta lives in fear of being the center of attention, so imagine her horror when her mother suggests throwing a big party for her birthday and inviting everyone at school. The party causes a major fight between her parents, so Greta eventually agrees to have the party to keep the peace.
When the dreaded day of the party arrives, her mother gives her a dress that is very cute but so not her style, and she’s deeply uncomfortable when others tell her she looks so beautiful and grown up.
As the party guests arrive, things begin to get slightly surreal with a pretty nice disco sequence. The party doesn’t seem to be the nightmare Greta imagined it would be. However, the cool girls arrive—two of whom are creepy twins who never say anything. Their gift for Greta is a cassette tape that plays a really mean song about her…which feels like a somewhat sociopathic move, honestly.
Humiliated, Greta retreats to her room. Her only real friend, Elliott, comforts her and also says he’d like to be more than friends. This is remarkably bad timing, which causes Greta to freak out and push him away, calling him a homo (not cool, Greta). Elliot is deeply offended that she considers this an insult in a way that I really appreciate.
To comfort herself, Greta opens up the music box, which seems to gain a life of its own and shocks her. When she wakes up, there’s a thing from the other realm there that has claimed the music box. It runs away into the woods (of course), and Greta gives chase.
Possibly not shockingly, things get really surreal from here on out. A woman who lives in the forest helps Greta navigate the woods and steer clear of the scary dog thing that’s pursuing her. It gets suuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuper Freudian when she encounters alternate versions of her mother and father, who are an ice queen and a sort of swamp guy, respectively. There’s also a really unsettling bit with Genevieve’s boyfriend, who has some sort of French alter-ego and comes on strong to Greta.
What does this all mean, and will Greta ever make it back to the party? Does she even want to make it back?
3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads
This is a very gentle coming of age story. Though it does tackle some heavier themes surrounding Greta’s home life and fear of attention, these receive only brief attention. I might complain about this if I were in a different mood, but avoiding anything too deep was a breath of fresh air with some very sweet moments and surreal scenes (admittedly with somewhat mixed results).
Elliott is one of my favorite teen characters ever now, though he is perhaps way too nice to be believed. I don’t care—I want to believe. I want Elliott to be my best friend.
The lack of depth is a bit frustrating at times—Greta quickly changes the subject when anyone tries to talk too much about the past, and the surreal scenes don’t really give us any insight into her psyche. At a certain point they do cross over into artsy film school BS.
It doesn’t help that the real and dream worlds are kept separate—it would have been nice to see them woven together better. Genevieve briefly alludes to what happened on her own 15th birthday, and as the music box is a gift from her mother, the whole experience could have been a shared experience. I would’ve LOVED it if there were more time for female relationships in this movie.
However, I enjoyed the aesthetic and this was just whimsical and sweet enough for me to enjoy.