No one does theatre nerds quite like the Americans. The theatre world here in Australia isn't as strong or as prolific as it should be, and thus school-aged children don't often grow up with that all-consuming sense of wonderment, passion and aspiration that they should. I went to school that put on a musical every two years. Tragic. That feeling of community, shared joy and experience from my youthful school theatre days is something I've greatly missed in my adulthood, but none more so than when I recently watched 'Dramarama'. Perhaps it was the eerily accurate 90s setting or the overwrought teen angst, or the compulsive need to stand out yet fit in at the same time, but this little nugget gave me all the feels.
This semi-autobiographical feature-debut by Jonathan Wysocki centres around Gene (Nick Pugliese, Netflix's '13 Reasons Why') as he attends a costumed murder mystery/slumber party with his four best friends and fellow theatre chums the night before one of them has to leave for college - a destination all of them are heading to, except Gene. Gene is also gay and struggling to find the words to finally come out to those he's been so close to all this time.
Their regular costumed soirée is business as usual despite Gene's uncharacteristic lack of enthusiasm - that is, until fellow classmate/cool guy who feels the need to pass judgement on everyone, JD (Zak Henri, 2014's 'Blended') shows up and throws a cat among the pigeons. In between the theatre-laden and film-referencing frivolities are truths shared, dares dared, resentments unleashed and more than a few bombshells thrown. Ahh, to be young again.
'Dramarama' is a bottle-film. If this isn't a term used in cinema yet, but I'm making it one. One setting (a house), all dialogue, only six cast members. In the television world, bottle-episodes are often touted as being cheap and lazy, yet in the cinema sphere, they're beloved as delightful melodramas rife with character development and a sense that anything can and will happen. This is exactly what 'Dramarama' is but with teens, dramatically inclined people both biologically and in the script. While no bottles are hurled, no one collapses with a last-minute clutch of the pearls and no one throws themselves on a bed in anguish, it does follow the humble and hauntingly realistic rollercoaster of friendships. Each of the five members of the group gets their moment to shine and tell their tales and sides of the story. It's well balanced while still focusing on Gene, and the film pleasingly ends with a lot being unsaid in a nice but often underappreciated bow. The cast all bring a delightful sense of innocence and are yet to be jaded by Hollywood. Marvellous.
It does follow the humble and hauntingly realistic rollercoaster of friendships.
There is something so sweetly special about this film. My suspicions lie in its 90s setting - one I'm all too familiar with. Or perhaps the cast of characters, again, all too familiar. Or perhaps it was the film's simplicity and accuracy. We all struggled and continue to struggle to find ourselves in so many different ways. We've all questioned friendships only to discover that what connects us is bigger than we imagined. And we've all found out that sometimes there are people in our lives that know us better than we know ourselves. And we found all of this out through so much dramarama-rama.