6 Festivals review – schmaltzy coming-of-age drama goes for heartstrings | australian movie
MAcario De Souza’s coming-of-age drama opens idyllicly, with its three young main characters on a canoe floating down a sunny river while partaking in the most ‘Strayan of recreations: drinking straight goon. of the bag. As if that moment wasn’t sweet enough, in a two-dollar fashion, James (Rory Potter), Summer (Yasmin Honeychurch) and Maxie (Rasmus King) then sing Powerfinger’s My Happiness in a soulful unit, Maxie even standing for the chorus as lens flare illuminates the frame. James caps off a beautiful moment by saying the greeting, “Cheers, cunts!”
Right after that… the crocodile attacks! I laugh; it’s a different movie – although later on, when 6 Festivals starts not so much tugging at heartstrings as grabbing, twisting and tugging them, I wish an ancient predator would interfere, not if only to make it a little less cornball.
The three friends don’t just float down a river, but actually orchestrate a cunning plan to sneak into a music festival. After jumping the fence, it falls, like a stink bomb thrown into a moshpit: a cringe-inducing voiceover taking on the tone of a tourist brochure crossed with a Wikipedia page. “Utopia Valley”, says our narrator. “This place is an experience beyond the music. It’s like an adventure retreat mixed with a music festival. Launched in 2016, sells over 20,000 tickets every year. Pee. It’s klutzy and grumpy, though we soon realize that’s not the case. exactly narration for the movie we’re watching, but for a movie within a movie: James records a video on his phone and comments.
When the young rascals are stopped by security, James begs a policeman not to call his parents, because his mother “isn’t dealing well with this whole cancer thing”. This continues a trend in Australian film of inserting cancer into coming-of-age storylines (The Butterfly Tree, Babyteeth). When Maxie asks if her mother has cancer, James replies, “Yes.” These two words declare the film a terminally ill teen flick, a la The Fault in Our Stars.
Ergo: 6 Festivals is a road movie on the theme of music and youth, in which three friends visit a certain number (can you guess how many?) of festivals. Like the brutal 2004 film One Perfect Day – set in a rave that becomes the site of multiple overdoses – De Souza infuses 6 Festivals with tragic elements that don’t naturally lend themselves to reckless shenanigans. Finding out that a mate has been diagnosed with the dreaded C-word doesn’t exactly make you cry “Let’s party!” – and the audience will feel the same.
We get the point: James’ favorite things are music festivals and friends, so what better way to spend the last stage of his life? But even great playwrights struggle to balance these competing emotions – and De Souza (the film’s director and co-writer, along with Sean Nash) falls far short of delivering a cathartically satisfying experience and dives into tasteless territory.
From the actors’ point of view, the main trio are quite charming and show potential, but they are hampered by a script that makes it difficult for them to dialogue to make it sound natural. Looking for dramatic friction, the writers have Maxie’s older nogoodnik brother pressure his impressionable sibling into bad (and criminal) behavior, though it feels forced. (Swimming-themed drama Streamline fared much better at orchestrating comparable tension.)
Like many road movies, 6 Festivals periodically resets to the same base coordinates, with one scene and moshpit merging into another. But the structure allows the film to sample Australian musicians and it’s good to see these acts (including Dune Rats, G Flip, Bliss n Eso, B Wise and Peking Duk) integrated, albeit briefly, into a narrative production.
Overt emotionality has a way of corroding everything, of turning the best dramatic intentions (and what movie is not well-meaning?) into schmaltzy goo. Young viewers will likely approach 6 Festivals wanting something fun and slightly rebellious – like drinking goon straight from the bag before sneaking into a festival – but will instead find a teary experience.