6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Hilarious, grotesque and finally very moving...,
This review is from: Summer Heights High [DVD] (DVD)
Summer Heights High, a typical (and fictional) Australian state high school, is the stage for this remarkably funny and insightful mockumentary from the immensely talented Chris Lilley. Playing all three of the lead characters, Lilley manages to be utterly convincing as each, and will leave viewers shaking their heads in wonder at his precise delineation of these very diverse roles.
Jamie (pronounced Ja-may) King, (and formerly seen in We Can be Heroes), is a spoilt private school senior, chosen for a social experiment in which she will swap places with a student from a public school and spend a term seeing how the other half lives. Grotesquely conceited, manipulative and bitchy, Jaime soon joins the cool clique and runs riot socially. It's a fantastic parody, although the cringe-worthy self-absorbtion of Jaime (and indeed all her gang of willing followers) will be so familiar to anyone who's attended high school that calling it a parody is perhaps misleading.
Mr G (watch out for the reveal of his first name) Gregson is the school's (junior) drama teacher. He's sexually ambiguous (OK, camp as a row of tents), ethically disgraceful and utterly hilarious - and perhaps the least qualified human ever to grace the classroom. He's about 1% as intelligent or talented as he believes himself to be, but compensates for this with an monumental ego and a firm belief in the total inferiority of everyone around him - culminating in writing a full-scale production based entirely around himself.
But it's Jonah Takalua, the trouble Year 8 Tongan student who is Lilley's masterstroke. It would be easy to dislike Jonah - he's a bully, a renegade, a willing troublemaker, self-marginalising and seeming to rejoice in disruption - but Lilley brilliantly shows the desperately lonely teen inside. His mother dead, and his father aggressively incapable of loving him, Jonah finds a substitute mother and father in two of the schools most compassionate teachers - Doug Peterson, the school's youth counsellor and Jan Palmer, the teacher of remedial English. Jonah longs for their attention and knows - as troubled kids so often do - that good behaviour doesn't capture their gaze. Unable to articulate his heartache, he has learnt a different language: when he's creating havoc he pulls the focus of the two people he loves and needs most - and it's not until his devastating scenes in the series final episode that we're truly made aware of how deep this need runs.
Lilley is outstanding, there's no doubt. But the series gains immeasurably by its supporting cast, whose naturalistic performaces both anchor and enable Lilley's. David Lennie and Maude Davey are fan-tas-tic as Peterson and Palmer, true advocates of the teaching profession who really care about Jonah, and all their kids. Kristy Barnes-Cullen is also exceptional as the hateful Miss Wheatley, a young woman not yet aware that she's clearly chosen the wrong profession. Stan Roache as the science teacher smitten with Gregson, the marvellous Elida Brereton (herself a real-life headmistress) as the diplomatic-yet-pragmatic Mrs Murray... and of course all the kids - who really understand the savage irony that underpins the series.
In the end it's hilarious (and a lot funnier that this review might suggest, in fact, sorry about that!) but it has serious things to say about young people and education and love and family and the need to belong. And it says them with laser precision. So to comment on the comedy without touching on its thematic strengths would be a great shame I think. Just have a look - you'll see what I mean...