Anyone with even a passing interest in queer cinema will know that recent years have seen a slew of lesbian coming-of-age dramas and – given how piss poor our community’s representation has been in the world of film for, I dunno, the past 120 years or so – that is officially A Good Thing. And, perhaps because the coming-of-age genre tends to walk such a well-trodden path, it’s not always easy to tell such stories in an original way and without resorting to cliché. The good news is that Aussie drama My First Summer does precisely that.
This is the story of two 16-year-old girls in a remote part of Australia: Claudia (Markella Kavenagh) lives on her own pretty much off grid, while Grace (Maiah Stewardsom) is neglected by her uncaring, foul-mouthed family. My First Summer charts their relationship journey from their first meeting to something more intense and intimate, all taking place over the course of one summer.
Under the deft direction of Katie Found, both Kavenagh and Stewardsom deliver credible performances of nuance and emotion and, while at points the pace of the film was slow to the point of glacial (mind you, when it picks up it REALLY picks up!), it is the the two leads who hold our gaze and stop our attention wandering.
Sixteen is a strange age and the lead actors’ portrayal of two girls on the cusp of adulthood was delivered with a sensitivity and emotional depth which is not only a credit to them, but also to Found’s stewardship. One particular scene leapt out at me: the girls are wearing candy necklaces and bracelets, the kind most of us will remember from our childhoods, and nibbling away at them while simultaneously taking their first tentative steps towards sexual intimacy. I loved the juxtaposition of the childish and the adult and it has to be said that had the director been a heterosexual male, the camera’s gaze might have made me a little uncomfortable. Let’s face it, there are some straight men out there whose unhealthy sexual proclivities might find stimulation in watching two 16-year-old girls eating sweeties while getting it on (yes, I know, yuck) so kudos to the director for striking the perfect balance and telling a story of teenage sexual awakening without the merest hint of exploitation.
Found touches on this herself, saying, “I aimed for My First Summer to be tender, and focus on an empowering queer, female gaze, rather than the male gaze which was often attached to the queer films I saw as a young person.
The continues, “I wanted them to fall in love in that sweet, innocent, awkward, summertime way boys and girls have been falling in love onscreen forever.”
My First Summer is available from Peccadillo Pictures from 11th April.