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(2006) ** Unrated
106 min. Magnolia Pictures. Director: Cate Shortland. Cast: Abbie Cornish, Sam Worthington, Lynette Curran, Erik Thompson, Nathaniel Dean (II).

Cate Shortland's Somersault gets off on the wrong foot, and never recovers. In the film's first scene, sixteen-year-old Heidi, played by magnetic newcomer Abbie Cornish, unaccountably decides to test her sexuality out on her mother's boyfriend. Incurring the wrath of her mother, Heidi hits the road and heads to a ski-resort town. When her plan to sponge off a middle-aged acquaintance fails, Heidi must beg her way into room and board and scrounge up a job, all the while looking for men to keep her company and/or support her.

A girl might act in these ways for various plausible reasons, but writer-director Shortland never provides one. Instead she focuses on shamelessly trying to excuse Heidi's behavior: she's an innocent who likes to spin around, look at trees, and leaf through her memory book of photos, journals, bubble-gum wrappers, and a unicorn birthday card. The "free spirited innocent" archetype doesn't convincingly share residence with this numbly sexual Lolita.

Wearing red gloves in a cold, blue world, Heidi has the warm hands, warm heart that don't come so easily to her emotionally troubled, noncommittal new boyfriend (but do come easily to the gratuitous local kid with Asperger syndrome, the film's sole unspoiled man). Shortland's film has gotten a lot of praise, including thirteen Australian Film Institute Awards, but if there's a story as to how this girl got so damaged, Cornish and Shortland keep it to themselves.

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