The challenges change but they don’t always become easier: Ellie knows there are at least five out gay kids in her year at school and her mother’s best friend, Patty, is a lesbian, so why should it be a big thing for her to try to talk to her classmate Abbie and find out if she has plans for the upcoming Year Twelve Formal Dance?
It’s not that Ellie lacks confidence as a person, wearing the badge of school captain and excelling in all her classes, it’s just that Abbie is something else, absolutely assured in everything she says and does, never lost for words and with a wicked sense of humour, comfortable with who she is as though she has never had to justify herself to anyone in her life.
Fortunately, when Erica fails at the first hurdle of being supportive mother to Ellie she finds she has another wholly unexpected ally whom only she can see, the spirit of her long-deceased aunt Tara, manifesting as her fairy godmother to ease her through her coming out, imparting her wisdom of proudly asking girls out in a very different era which was actually not so long ago.
The feature debut of writer and director Monica Zanetti, Ellie and Abbie (and Ellie’s Dead Aunt) is a very different high school romantic comedy to what Tara might have seen in her dating years a generation before, and that the object of Ellie’s infatuation is a girl is secondary to the universal pain of liking someone and feeling unable to do anything about it, not helped by the unexpected reaction of Ellie’s mother, the reasons for which reshape all the relationships when exposed in the most awful of settings, a classroom presentation.
Based on Zanetti’s 2016 stage play of the same name and recalling the charming Touch of Pink where the ghost of Cary Grant offered romantic advice with similarly awkward outcomes, Sophie Hawkshaw is Ellie, an overachiever who suddenly finds herself unable to complete coherent sentences, and Zoe Terakes is Abbie, never teasing or leading Ellie on but doing all she can to be open, understanding that this is a step Ellie must take alone, oblivious to the well-intended but increasingly disruptive actions of Julia Billington as Tara, still dressed in denim for the eighties.
A film which puts a brave face over years of anger, the good intentions of Ellie and Abbie (and Ellie’s Dead Aunt) stand alongside the heartfelt performances of the ensemble which includes Thor: Ragnarok’s Rachel House as Patty, but with the revelations coming too early it finds itself treading water through a makeover montage to a resolution which is comfortable in its predictability rather than overwhelming in its emotion.
Ellie and Abbie (and Ellie’s Dead Aunt) will be available on digital platforms from Monday 12th July and on DVD from Monday 19th July