Film Review: Drama (Australia, 2016) offers a hopeful alternative to the usual coming-of-age story

Some people claim they don’t look for drama, that drama looks for them. In Anna’s case, drama’s reared its ugly head in her life in the form a breakup with older man John. She seeks solace and support in her best friend Jean, who lives across the English channel in Paris. Jean welcomes his London-based Aussie expat friend, if only because it provides a distraction from his relationship with Philippe (also older), which is growing more and more serious every day.

Touted as a story “of the selves we once were and the selves we long to be”, Drama, written and directed by Sophie Mathisen and produced by Dominique Mathisen, is a coming-of-age tale with heartbreak, where two people learn the realities of real love in whatever form it’s presented to them. For anyone yearning for an Australian production with heart and soul, this may the one for you.

Another reason this film is making waves is the way it’s being brought to the public. In an Australian first, this new distribution model allows the film to be accessed online and in cinemas at the same time. Known as “day and date” distribution, it’s bucking the traditional business framework, and closing the window of home viewing versus cinema release.

Whether or not you follow the intricacies of the film business, Drama, with all its gutsy groundbreaking production stories, is a heartwarming film. Anna (Sophie Mathisen) and Jean (Jonathan Burteaux) are both in their 20s, but this aspect of their lives – their drama – is accessible and relatable for all ages. Carving out a life for yourself and finding you family is a part of life, and is done in your 20s, 30s, 40s etc. This is not like Lena Dunham’s Girls, which seems to have a polarising effect on viewers. Anna, like Hannah on TV, is also finding her feet in her love life and her career, but there’s a likeability factor with the characters of Drama. Anna is a character we’ve seen in ourselves and in our friends, particularly because there’s an Australian-ness about her that’s very relatable. Anna’s whole demeanour changes when she meets with her soon-to-be ex-landlord and ex-boyfriend. Her Aussie accent (though not broad, is definitely still distinct) that she uses on Jean disappears when she’s with her ex. She giggles and blushes and quite frankly, it’s gross. But it’s an element we recognise in ourselves, and when presented in this way, it’s definitely relatable.

An Australian film about Australian expats is nice to see. Part of what makes Drama so interesting is the way Anna is moulding her life and career without the comforts of home. She talks to her mother over Skype, Jean and her are on good terms with each other’s parents. She worries about what her mother will think of her career misses, and “glosses over” not-so-great information about recent auditions (i.e. she lies to her). Whether or not you’ve been an Aussie expat in London, we all know what it feels like to feel shame over a life that’s not quite going the way you thought. And for those who have been Aussie expats in London, it’s somewhat comforting to see this portrayed in film (and not just over copious bottles of wine with returning friends).

One of Drama’s stand-out theme is that of “real love”. Anna and Jean, though best friends, treat each other poorly at one point, but at the end of the day, they have each other’s best interests at heart. It shows that you might not always recognise the ones who love you the most. In a truly touching scene, Jean and Anna discuss her breakup with John. “You felt awful”, Jean tells her wisely, a cautionary line to a stubborn, heartbroken friend. Anna responds with, “I might as well choose the awful that made me the happiest”. It’s these kinds of conversations that one can only have with their nearest and dearest, the people who will listen to your every bad idea and every ill-advised decision and tell you the honest truth.

In fact, it’s the love connections between the various characters that really give this film soul. Aside from allowing us to question what it means to experience “real love”, Drama also asks us to examine what love means to us when we’re inexperienced in life in general. Anna and Jean are ready to knock each other to the ground, as often best friends do, because they don’t yet see the capacity of their love for each other. In the same way, Jean and his boyfriend Philippe (François Vincentelli) are about to take the next step in their relationship. This fear blinds Jean to the fact that Philippe could be the real deal – a partner in life.

Sophie Mathisen and Jonathan Burteaux as Anna and Jean respectively are pretty good. Their camaraderie and affection for each other looks genuine on camera, and it’s because of this that their fights look so destructive, it could destroy their worlds. They’re cuddling each other like an old married couple in one scene, then passive aggressively calling each other out on the other’s bullshit. François Vincentelli as Philippe, though not a main character, is also very good in this. His character is the grounded centre that Jean – and the film – needs, and he delivers. His love for his ailing mother throughout the film is the realest amid the shallow lust Anna and Jean follow for other people.

If it’s surface level drama you want, this is not the film for you. It’s not mean-spirited or riddled in pop culture references that usually come with a film about people finding their place in the world. Instead, Drama offers a hopeful alternative to the usual coming-of-age story, and allows us all to give ourselves a break and learn from our mistakes.


Drama is in select cinemas and available for download for $5 via iTunes and Google Play now. 

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