By Adam Ray Palmer
Back in 2014, EMO the Musical (a 20-minute short) debuted to great acclaim for writer/director Neil Triffett.
Now two years on, Neil is back with a feature version of the high school musical with a brand-new cast.
If there’s ever a time for a musical to be released, it’s now…
EMO the Musical follows Ethan (Benson Jack Anthony) as he embarks on a new journey, trying to fit in at his new high school. He decides to join the school rock band but falls for Trinity (Jordan Hare), the school’s Christian pupil, which doesn’t go sit well with the emos. From this point on, Ethan struggles to adapt to new school life.
Benson has the innocence of a new pupil nailed down perfectly. He becomes one of the emo gang so he can fit into a clique at school. He joins the school's rock band to be part of a unity. He convinces the band's leader, Bradley (Rahart Adams), by telling him a story of how he tried to kill himself at his previous high school – the band are weirdly impressed, and he's in the band. Ethan is keen to have a character around the school, trying to do whatever it takes to fit in, including arson apparently.
Trinity on the other hand, is the school's darling. She heads up the Christian band as they perform church-like songs around campus. She seems to have this persona of a good girl, but has an urge to rebel during her hormonal adolescent years - especially when Ethan comes to town.
In a new cinema era of musicals, well, the last 12 months; we have another addition to the musical family. Australian-made EMO the Musical follows the well-trodden path of La La Land and Sing Street, with the latter being the most similar to EMO. This moves us perfectly onto my next point, there’s two films that strike a chord with me regarding EMO. The first is the obvious Sing Street from 2016. Although they were made at the same time, you can't help but see the similarities. I must add though that EMO was originally a short film a few years ago so there’s definitely no link. However, like EMO, Sing Street centres on a new boy at school, starting a band to fit in, plus; to impress the heartthrob of a rock chick across the road. Both films deal with similar issues too, which makes these movies standout and have a deeper message rather than just some sing-along fun.
The other film that EMO resonates with is 1978s Grease. Not so much the narrative this time, but more the different groups of identities at high school. In EMO, we have the emos, the Christian group, the nerds etc. and in Grease, the same breakout cliques emerge. We have the Pink Ladies, the T-Birds, the nerds, the jocks and the rival gang. The similarity between these two films, even though they are 40 years apart, is the forming of barriers that you need to breakdown to be accepted. Danny Zucko feels he can't be sensitive and tries his hand as a jock, Sandy feels forced to radically change her look, and ‘gang culture’ is rife. In EMO, the same applies to our two leads in Trinity and Ethan. The 'gang culture' element is still around in EMO, even if a little diluted. There's rivalling between the church and rock groups with a few sequences where it over-boils.
EMO delves even deeper with sequences of teen pregnancy and homosexuality and how dealing with who you are is difficult when growing up in brutal environments – like schools. This film is certainly layered, and much more complex than meets the eye. I’m convinced that when people catch EMO, you’re going to be thrilled at what a surprising package this movie is.
Cineroom’s Rating: 4 Stars
EMO the Musical screened at the Berlinale on February 11th 2017 – certificate TBC