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6 Festivals review – schmaltzy coming-of-age drama goes for the heartstrings

Macario De Souza’s coming-of-age drama opens idyllically, with its three young principal characters on a dinghy floating down a sunkissed river while partaking in that most ’Strayan of recreations: drinking goon straight from the bag. As if this moment wasn’t sweet enough, in a two-buck-chuck kind of way, James (Rory Potter), Summer (Yasmin Honeychurch) and Maxie (Rasmus King) then sing Powerfinger’s My Happiness in soul-stirring unity, Maxie even standing up for the chorus as a lens flare lights up the frame. James caps off a beautiful moment by delivering the salutation, “Cheers, cunts!”

Right after this … the crocodile attacks! Just kidding; that’s a different movie –although later on, when 6 Festivals starts not so much pulling at the heartstrings as grabbing, twisting and yanking them, I would have quite liked an ancient predator to intrude, if only to make it a little less cornball.

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The three friends aren’t just floating down a river but are in fact orchestrating a clever plan to sneak into a musical festival. After they jump the fence, it hits, like a stink bomb hurled into a moshpit: a cringe-inducing voiceover taking the tone of a tourism brochure crossed with a Wikipedia page. “Utopia Valley,” our narrator says. “This place is an experience beyond the music. It’s like an adventure retreat mixed with a music festival. Started in 2016, sells over 20,000 tickets every year.” Pee-ew. It’s klutzy and cringey, though soon we realise it’s not exactly narration for the film we’re watching, but for a film within a film: James is recording a video on his phone and providing commentary.

When the young rascals are busted by security, James pleads with a police officer not to call his parents, as his mum “isn’t coping well with this whole cancer thing”. This continues a trend in Australian film of inserting cancer into coming-of-age storylines (The Butterfly Tree, Babyteeth). When Maxie asks whether his mum has cancer, James returns: “I do.” These two words declare the film a terminally ill teenager flick, à la The Fault in Our Stars.

Ergo: 6 Festivals is a music and youth-themed bucket-list road movie, in which three friends visit a certain number (can you guess how many?) of festivals. Like the heavy-handed 2004 film One Perfect Day – set at a rave that becomes the site of multiple overdoses – De Souza infuses 6 Festivals with tragic elements that don’t naturally lend themselves to carefree shenanigans. Discovering a mate has been diagnosed with the dreaded C word doesn’t exactly make one scream “let’s party!”– and the audience will feel similarly.

We get the point: James’s favourite things are music festivals and friends, so what better way to spend the last leg of his life? But even great dramatists struggle to balance these competing emotions – and De Souza (the film’s director and co-writer, with Sean Nash) falls well short of delivering a satisfying cathartic experience and dips into wishy-washy territory.

Rory Potter, Rasmus King and Yasmin Honeychurch
Rory Potter, Rasmus King and Yasmin Honeychurch. Photograph: Paramount+

Acting-wise, the principal trio are quite charming and show potential but they are hampered by a script that hands them difficult dialogue to make sound natural. In search of dramatic friction, the writers have Maxie’s nogoodnik older brother pressure his impressionable sibling into bad (and criminal) behaviour, though this feels forced. (The swimming-themed drama Streamline was much more successful in orchestrating a comparable tension.)

Like a lot of road movies, 6 Festivals periodically resets itself to the same basic coordinates, one stage and moshpit blending into another. But the structure does allow the film to sample from Australian musicians and it’s good to see these acts (including Dune Rats, G Flip, Bliss n Eso, B Wise and Peking Duk) integrated, albeit briefly, into a narrative production.

Overt emotionalising has a way of corroding everything, turning the best of dramatic intentions (and what film isn’t well intended?) into schmaltzy goo. Young viewers will probably approach 6 Festivals wanting something fun and mildly rebellious – like drinking goon straight from the bag before sneaking into a festival – but discover a maudlin experience instead.

  • 6 Festivals opens in cinemas on 11 August and will be streamable on Paramount+ later in 2022

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