Hey, Hey It's Esther Blueburger is a coming of age/ rite of passage / lose of innocence black comedy, which is told in an unconventional manner.
The film stars Danielle Catanzariti as Esther Blueburger, a social outcast at her rigid private school and an afterthought amongst her dysfunctional Jewish family. When she strikes up a friendship with the rebellious Sunni (Keisha Castle Hughes) and her hipster mother Mary (Toni Collette), Esther begins to feel the effects of adolescence whilst leading a double life posing as a Swedish exchange student at a local public school.
Writer/director Cathy Randal had developed the script for this film over a number of years. The strength of her writing earned her a scholarship to the Los Angeles Film School's Feature Development Program, and a nomination from the Australian Writer's Guild for best un-produced screenplay.
With this film, Randal touches on a number of key and often taboo subjects. The collision of the lead characters religious and secular worlds makes for interesting viewing, and the increased sexualization of young adolescence is met head on, yet handled tastefully. Also, parental responsibility (which is a key factor to the lead characters developing maturity) is approached skilfully and represented by two different parties: Esther's parents who are extremely controlling and Sunni's mother who is too lax.
However, despite (or maybe because of) Randal's many years of toiling over this screenplay, there are numerous flaws.
Several moments has the film coming dangerously close to becoming a clichéd teen flick (which is a shame since it is much better than that), and a number of predictable and ridiculous plot developments rob the film of its ability to become one of the better Australian films seen in some time, while several odd scenes (a very messy dinner sequence) and bizarre character traits (Esther pleading into a toilet bowl for God to save her) feel forced and almost runs the film aground.
But what does keep it afloat during these messy patches are the terrific performances by its cast, especially from young actress Danielle Catanzariti who is exceptional in her film debut, and more than holds up to Oscar nominees Keisha Castle Hughes and Toni Collette, who are both very good.
A resolute if not erratic film, Hey, Hey It's Esther Blueburger does leave an impression with its imaginative and brave approach to a stock standard story.