Outfest 2020: "Ellie & Abbie (& Ellie's Dead Aunt)" is a teen rom-com with a serious side
It's formal (prom) season in Australia, and high school head girl Ellie has someone she'd like to ask. The only thing is, Ellie (Sophie Hawkshaw) becomes an awkward mess when she's around her crush Abbie (Zoe Terakes, making her second Outfest appearance this year). Good thing her dead aunt Tara (All About E's Julia Billington) is there to guide her as a Fairy Godmother of sorts. Naturally, having your dead aunt who you've never actually met suddenly appear in your bathroom, dolling out lesbian dating advice can be a little jarring, but soon Ellie finds a kindred spirit (pardon the pun) in her aunt.
Ellie's mom Erica (Janet King's Marta Dusseldorp) struggles with the revelation that Ellie is gay, but there's more than meets the eye about her reservations. She confides in her best friend Patty (Moana's Rachel House) who is also a lesbian and has become an aunt of sorts to Ellie over the years.
When Ellie and Abbie get to spend time together, it's a comedy of errors, resulting in miscommunication, fake detention, real detention and even a screaming match in front of classmates. As the circumstances around Aunt Tara's death come to light, it both pulls at the tenuous relationship between Ellie and her mother and ultimately brings them together.
Director/writer Monica Zanetti does a lovely job with the pacing of the film, which clocks in at a brisk 80 minutes. She has a wonderful ensemble to work with and finds a delicate balance between the film's awkward humor and more tender, serious moments. Hawkshaw is great as the overachieving Ellie, who thinks she has it all figured out but quickly finds out that she has a lot to learn. Terakes is a rising star in Australia, with a breakout role now in Wentworth, and it's pretty clear why. They nail that "rebel without a cause" demeanor, but with considerable depth. Terekes is also openly queer and non-binary, and uses they/them pronouns.