Hey, Hey, It’s Esther Blueburger
by Phil Boatwright

Danielle Catanzariti, Keisha Castle-Hughes, Toni Collette. Comedy/drama. Written & directed by Cathy Randall. 103 min. Not yet rated.

FILM SYNOPSIS: Esther Blueburger’s (Danielle Catanariti) quest begins when she escapes from her Bar Mitzvah party and is befriended by Sunni (Keisha Castle-Hughes), the effortlessly cool free spirit who is everything Esther thinks she wants to be. With the help of Sunni, Esther goes AWOL from her ordinary life, leaving behind her dysfunctional Jewish family in order to hang out with Sunni’s far breezier and super-hip single mum Mary (Toni Collette) and attend Sunni’s more liberal school disguised as a Swedish exchange student.

PREVIEW REVIEW: The coming-of-age scenario is fodder for movie studios. They know there’s always a new generation of preteens going through the changes of childhood to adulthood and always a set of parents attempting to deal with the ordeal. This one is charming, mainly due to its cast, especially the kids. They seem real, as if tormented, themselves. As Moving Pictures Magazine said about the lead and her brother, “The interplay between the twin siblings is truly fantastic.” The relationship is believable, that in itself is fantastic for an industry that usually thrives on trite and stereotypical family relationships.

Alas, filmmaker Cathy Randall incorporates some PG-13-worthy content in order to create a sense of quirkiness. On the cusp of turning 13, the brother/sister are already comfortable with the f-word and, though they are Jewish and you’d think the name of Jesus wouldn’t be heard that often, each manages to use it as a mere expletive. I realize kids are using profanity in school at that age, and younger, but I wonder how many of them are picking it up at the cineplex?

Some of the content meant to give the proceedings some I-can’t-believe-I-just-hear-that sensibility include, along with the kids swearing occasionally, one free-spirited single mother who dances in a strip club and may also be a hooker (briefly implied). Then there’s the scene where the girls use an Ouija board to communicate with a dead relative. They even get a visual response. The young teens smoke and drink and lie. While some of these deeds are used merely to depict what’s really going on with kids trying to be adults, the filmmaker never takes a moral stand against anything. With a more subtle approach, the filmmaker could have included a clearer moral. That doesn’t seem to be the intent of his production. It simply addresses a child wanting to be seen, wanting to be normal, yet wanting to be different.

If the content offends, then allow me to suggest the following DVDs as alternatives: Anne Frank Remembered. This poignant documentary works on several levels: a true life coming of age; the insight of a wise young girl; the human capacity to survive and look out for fellow human beings.

Every teenager should see this film to learn of the destructiveness of bigotry and to be uplifted by the courage and power people can display. Filled with many intuitive moments, the film reminds us that soon no one will be here to tell the personal events associated with that horrific time. For example, the middle-aged son of a holocaust victim meets the woman who protected his father nearly 50 years ago. Two months after this meeting, the man died. Another moment had a sudden emotional impact on me. Real life film footage shows a parade during that period when suddenly the camera pans up the side of a housing complex, revealing people looking out the window at the commotion in the street. One of those people is the real Anne Frank.

I remember bursting out in tears as that visual overwhelmed me. I’m not sure why, other than the fact that here was this human being, full of life, and I realized that life would swiftly undergo change, then be snuffed out one day in a concentration camp. It’s a hard image to view, yet one of the most moving ever caught on film. Anne Frank Remembered is rated PG (The atrocities of Hitler's concentration camps are briefly seen toward the end of the film).

The Nativity Story. (2006). Talk about a teenage girl with some explaining to do. Keisha Castle-Hughes and Oscar Isaac star as Mary and Joseph in this retelling of the birth of Christ. The filmmakers worked hard to ensure that The Nativity Story was both historically and biblically accurate: There were several Christians involved, such as screenwriter Mike Rich and producer Wyck Godfrey, and a wide spectrum of Christian New Testament scholars and historians were involved in the pre-production process. Rated PG (for some violent content).

Jacob Have I Loved. Bridget Fonda, Jenny Robertson. A shy, insecure teenager comes to grips with the resentment she feels for her twin sister. Sensitive story dealing with sibling rivalry.