Written and directed by Lucy Coleman, 'Hot Mess' is a comedy about a 20-something woman searching for career fulfilment and companionship in Sydney's Inner West; a sexually blunt, wryly satirical look at millennial angst told on a micro-budget.
25-year-old Loz (a perfectly cast Sarah Gaul) is a playwright struggling to find a receptive audience for her rather graphic songs about things like toxic shock-induced suicide (caused by leaving in a tampon for too long). She's entitled, obnoxious and delusional, but she isn't just a collection of clichés designed to make sweeping generalisations about an age group.
Loz has been waiting patiently to be picked for a writer-in-residence gig at a theatre run by Greg (Terry Serio). Her mum (Zoe Carides, 'My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2') just wants her to finish her Commerce degree and get a job in finance.
After a heart-to-heart with her newly single friend Gen (a very funny Julia Robertson) about rimjobs ("does it smell butthole-y?"), the two women go to a house party, where Loz meets Dave (Marshall Campbell) as he's waiting to use the bathroom. A seemingly chill dude with a religious upbringing who seems to have his life together, Dave suddenly has Loz contemplating a different future ("move to Newcastle, have a couple of kids and look after them") instead of following her dreams of becoming a playwright and "waiting for a 50-year old man who uses Oedipus Rex as a cum rag". Of course, things don't turn out so tidily...
Pushed along by a zippy jazz soundtrack by Jack Hambling and Tom O'Dea, 'Hot Mess' lives and dies by its script. The film has an improvisatory, low-rent, do-it-yourself feel that is at least as striking - and, maybe to some, as disconcerting - as its frank sexuality. It feels loose, candid and personal. Not only is Lucy Coleman's dialogue funny, but it feels authentic.
I'm from Newcastle, have lived in Sydney for years and hung out around the Inner West, so a lot of the humour and late-night discussions felt familiar to me. I know people like Dave, who were raised in a strict religious community and got married at a young age. I even noticed a former co-worker pop up playing minor character, proving that Sydney really is the tiniest city. But even if you haven't experienced these things, you'll probably still relate to the bad decisions Loz makes, or have fallen into the same terrible relationships.
'Hot Mess' lives and dies by its script. The film has an improvisatory, low-rent, do-it-yourself feel that is at least as striking - and, maybe to some, as disconcerting - as its frank sexuality.
The film benefits greatly from casting so spot-on that it makes you want to applaud, with actors who inherently understand the mood and the tone to a science (like a good Woody Allen ensemble film). It also slightly echoes Gregory Erdstein's very Melbourne indie comedy, 'That's Not Me'. Coleman and Gaul create an unflattering but sympathetic portrait of a young, educated, artistic, self-obsessed individual existing in a narrow world, something the likes of Larry David, Louis CK and Lena Dunham made careers of.
Coleman's film is a lo-fi, rooted-in-realism affair, and it mines the honesty of its characters in such a way that it produces both robust comedy and genuine, emotionally dramatic moments. I imagine most people will fall for its endearing mixture of awkwardness, oversharing and eyebrow-raising sex talk. 'Hot Mess' is one of the most original, spot-on, no-steps-missed Aussie comedies in recent memory.