"Flirting" is a sequel to the 1987 (shown here in mid-'88) Australian coming-of-age film "The Year My Voice Broke," about an eccentric youth named Danny Embling and his life in rural Australia in 1962.
That film focused mainly on his frustrating friendship with a troubled girl whom he loved, but who would not return his romantic overtures. Noah Taylor, who played the protagonist, reprises his role in "Flirting," this time set in 1965, with Danny in a rigid boarding school. Here, he falls in love again, but this time the object of his affections returns the feeling. It is obvious, however, that this romance too is ultimately doomed.
Danny is still the outcast, unable to fit in with his classmates and consistently finding himself in trouble with his teachers. In the opening scene we see what trouble reaps in this school, as a group of boys is lined up for a "thrashing" from the headmaster.
Meanwhile, across the lake is a girls' boarding school where a young black student is also treated as an outcast. Thandwine Adjewa (Thadie Newton), who is from Uganda, is the subject of racist comments and general derision from her classmates. She does manage to make a couple of friends, however, and before the film is over develops a tenuous relationship with the school's No. 1 student, a prim, snobbish blonde bombshell (Nicole Kidman).
Danny and Thandwine's relationship is hinted at in an early scene where she spots him at a rugby game. While boys all around him are hooting at the game, he has his nose stuck in a book. Later, they meet briefly, are attracted to each other and soon Danny is stealing across the lake for brief encounters. This ultimately leads to the first sexual experience for both of them, just before tragedy separates them.
However, most of the film is spent turning the set-pieces of more conventional coming-of-age movies on their ear. Danny is no ordinary nerd and his run-ins with his classmates and teachers are alternately funny and poignant.
But what really makes "Flirting" a cut above the norm is that, as with the first film, writer-director John Duigan has come up with witty, intelligent dialogue and elicits incredibly natural performances from his young stars. There are many well-developed young characters and the adults also have depth. For the most part, Duigan eschews stereotypes. He also allows this interracial romance to play out in subtle ways that indicate the two people involved are blind to each other's color.
Unfortunately, the film as a whole is undercut by its inability to maintain a steady tenor, vacillating uneasily from comedy to drama with some slow-going interludes in between. Furthermore, portraying casual sex as just another expected ritual of youth is not particularly clever. It is the one movie cliche that Duigan chooses not to avoid.
Still Taylor and Newton are excellent together, and it's interesting to see Kidman in her pre-Tom Cruise days (the film was made three years ago, prior to "Days of Thunder" and "Far and Away").
"Flirting" is rated R for violence, sex, nudity (male backsides in the shower), some vulgarity and one profanity.