Friday, April 23, 2010

Fiction to Film - Hating Alison Ashley

The Fiction
Author: Robin Klein
Publisher: Puffin Books, 1984
Length: 182 pages
Genre: Junior Fiction

Erica Yurken, referred to as Yuk or Erk by her peers, considers herself a big fish in a small pond. Yuk is stuck slumming it in Baringa East with her eccentric, decidedly bogan family, whilst harbouring dreams of a life of fame and fortune. She is the star pupil (and a bit of a hypercondriac and know-it-all) of Baringa East Primary, until the arrival of new student, Alison Ashley. By all outward appearances, Alison Ashley is perfect and the teachers and other students dote on her, to Erica's chagrin. Yurk declares Alison her enemy, and things come to a head at the annual Grade Six Camp.

Now I have something to confess - I was (or if I'm really honest with myself, probably still am) a bit of a Yuk. I can remember so clearly the first time I read this book - it was at the start of Grade Six, and I also had a teacher who was very much like Baringa East's Miss Belmont. Looking back I was probably a bit of a know-it-all (like Erica) with a penchant for exaggeration, and was desperate to please this teacher (urgh, okay enough embarrassing trips down memory lane). Anyway, I loved this book, and it lead me to read many of Robin Klein's other novels. On a related note, when researching this post, I discovered something very sad. In 2005, Robin Klein suffered an aneurysm rupture which she survived, but left her unable to write anymore. A great loss in Australian Childrens literature.

Ten years later, they made it into a film.

The Film
Director: Geoff Bennett
Screenwriter: Christine Madafferi
Release Date: 2005
Cast: Saskia Burmeister, Delta Goodrem, Jean Kittson

Ok, I had a lot of difficulty with this film, and this post. I wanted to like it, I really did. The first time I watched it was pretty painful. There was a lot of second hand embarrassment involved. So then I went and re-read the book (the first time in at least five years) and got a bit of a fresh perspective. Then, went back and watched Hating Alison Ashley a second time and it got a little better and was able to understand some creative decisions. Anyway, hopefully this has come together in the post.

Our heroine, Erica Yurken, also known as Yurk, is played by Saskia Burmeister. I have to say, I think she does a pretty impressive job with what she's given. She is able to capture the full emotional range of the role, and also has the ability to play up the less-serious (to the point of being cringeworthy) moments of the film. Film Erica should be supremely annoying, but Burmeister makes her quite endearing. I do however feel like the connection between Erica and the viewer isn't quite there (to the extent that I would count it as a key reason for the box office failure of the film), though it's more of a screenwriter/director issue.

And now for the titular Alison Ashley. Delta Goodrem's performance as Alison Ashley was pretty heavily panned for being "wooden" and "detatched". I can't totally disagree, but yet I can't think of who else would play the role better. I mean at the time of production and release, Delta was certainly Australia's golden child (having appeared on our most popular soap, fought cancer, and had seven Aria number-one singles) and I suppose it would have made sense to cast her as the perfect Alison Ashley.

Whilst her performance (or lack of) is fairly bland, I have to point out that so was Book Alison Ashley - she is given liberal dialogue and on page, more time is spent describing her perfect clothing and school lunches, than developing her personality (not a criticism of Robin Klein, but putting it out there that the voice and focus is definitely on Erica). Anyway, I feel she completely looked the part, and kudos to the costume unit for her fantastic outfits (they could have made her really bland, but her floaty feminine pastels set her apart from the 'unrefined chaos' of the rest of Baringa East High).

The biggest difference in Hating Alison Ashley from page to screen, is the conscious decision to move it from being a children's story to a distinctly Young Adult film. I feel this change has both pros and cons. I do question how well the film would have worked with pre-teens, and I can understand why they slated it as more of a girly teen flick (it was released following the success of Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen and Mean Girls, and in the same year as Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants). A teen film is certainly easier to market and I think they relied on the fact that a lot of Australian teenagersa would have already read Hating Alison Ashley. Anyway, just my thoughts, as I'm sure others others may think this is one of the film's biggest downfalls.

There is a bit more of a detailed discussion of Hating Alison Ashley's page to screen journey, screencaps and some random ramblings under the cut.

Oh the Yurken family! I kind of love them. I felt they transitioned very nicely on screen. I think there's something about depictions of the Australian suburban family on screen that just works (Kath and Kim, The Castle) in comedy. I felt the casting definitely stayed true to Klein's original characters and were kept unashamedly kind-of bogan.

One of my issues with the film version was the structure and pacing. I felt like the Erica/Alison relationship wasn't developed enough as it could have been. As the creative team chose to make it a teen film, they of course had to introduce some sort of romance plotline (cause teenagers are all about hormones, don't you know? and it is pretty much a requirement of a teen film with a female protagonist to experience her first kiss or a kiss, at some point on screen). This meant the Erica and Alison feud was effected by the Barry/Alison/Erica love triangle thing the writer had going on, though unfortunately wasn't executed well.  

There is also a weird, clunky mother-issue thing with Alison Ashley who has this "haha I'm not you" moment near the end, but it just seems so forced (also I felt Alison's issue with her mother was the fact she was never around, not that she was forcing her to be 'perfect').

I will say I thought the entire production design was great. Fantastic use of colour!
I also really loved the food art (Alison's amazing school lunches were to die for, though unfortunately I didn't screencap them).

Ah, the old camp play! Another big change (instead of writing two plays - Baringa East Hospital and Cinderella) they combine them to instead perform Murder at the Mercy - which does make more sense on-screen. With one minor detail being left - why the shoes? Why is it such made to be such a big moment with the arrival of the customised boots for the play? You see them on-stage in one shot, and as the play relies on more of the Baringa East Hospital storyline, why is there such an emphasis on Alison Ashley having the shoes for the production?? Ok, I'm being a bit pedantic, but I'm big on unresolved plotlines and bad production detail.

On the plus side, I do love the play's costumes - they are made from everyday objects and are a (heightened and much more stylished designed) version of what teenagers would actually make for themselves on camp.

Now quickly, a few random observations.


Freaking Margeart! Ack, always hated her in the books and of course, she survived the fiction to film adaptation. Argh, she's just so drippy and blah. At least in the books her character kind of works as part of Baringa East (she and Erica have more interaction), but in the film, like most of the smaller roles, she isn't utilised to the best advantage.

Whilst I don't mind dream/fantasy sequences when well-done - as the one above was (side note, isn't Saskia Burmeister gorgeous?) and they added to both plot and character development.

But then there was this:
A bit of overkill.

Finally, how much does Erica/Saskia look like my girl Lindsay Weir (Linda Cardalini) in this shot? Sorry, the Freaks and Geeks fangirl in me couldn't let it slide.

 Have you seen Hating Alison Ashley? If so, what did you think?

Quick note: Hope you are enjoying this feature - I must say I have quite a lot of fun putting it together. I'm hoping to make it more of a weekly thing in the future, but at the moment am finding it takes ages to do (I usually re-read the book and watch the movie twice - once for notes, once for screencaps).


yolande said...

this is such a good book!!!!!!!!

yolande said...

I think I would spend my hole life watching this video

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