Dramarama charms its audience by as being as relatable as the last day before adulthood film can be. Johnathan Wysocki’s feature debut is a sure-fire winner thanks to a stellar script and an ensemble that help each other shine.
In the summer of 1994, Gene (Nick Pugliese) and his small gang of theatre-loving pals get together for one final murder mystery party at Rose’s (Anna Grace Barlow) home before they leave for college the following day. With a mutual flair for the dramatic, emotions always run high amongst this ostentatious group. However, tonight’s third act looks set to be particularly explosive as Gene has a secret he needs to share with his conservative friends. But when the spotlight comes on, will our leading man be able to deliver his lines?
Dramarama focuses on Gene, but this is very much a story about all five teenagers as everyone gets multiple moments to shine. We learn the ins and outs of the groups, and throughout the evening, all of their frustrations with each other begins to seep out. As it is their final night together for some time, there is a lot to get out of. The chemistry between the five is exceptional, and it is easy for the audience to believe that this group have been friends in this conservative town for quite some time.
Having all five have their own fears and frustrations allows the film not to rely on Gene’s coming out and thus gives it time and space to breathe and ease itself into the story. Each character has their own specific traits that they bring to the film. Be it Rose’s rising frustrations and insecurities of going off on her own, to Ally (Danielle Kay) becoming the emotional support to her friends., Oscar (Nico Greetham) holding back truths but covering it up as unbeknownst to him, most of his friend group have fallen for him or with Claire (Megan Suri), who is so committed to her faith that even when the group becomes strained, she believes things will be okay.
Each character’s traits have importance to the story, and without each character, the Dramarama would flounder. This often forgotten trick in screenwriting for ensemble pieces and Jonathan Wysocki creates a wonderful setting for the group to thrive. It allows the entire ensemble to become stronger by guiding each other as it would be challenging to point the finger at a standout.
This is a bittersweet night for our quintet, and Wysocki never steers far from reminding us of this even when he fills Dramarama with moments of humour as they bounce effortlessly off one another. Wysocki’s writing is also grounded in arguments 17, or 18-year high school kids would have. When one character blurts out a secret, the wounded participant throws back another secret to the group, hurting not only themselves but the group as well. The dialogue never ventures into the unbelievable, and we get to see the frustrations rise in each of our group as their fears of what tomorrow brings them edges closer.
With their planned night deteriorating at a rapid pace, they realise this is also the end of their childhood. Each is one another’s safety net. With them each going off to different parts of the country, their safety net will also be gone. Anyone who has left their home town for university or college can attest to that is a terrifying prospect. So try as they might to keep the night going and not to splinter off before dawn; the worries of their future without their closest friends begins to weigh too heavy on them.
Feeling this the most is Gene, the one who is staying behind, and with his secret bearing heavy on him, he has already learned he needs to start making friends with people still here. This causes strife amongst the group as his continual distance, be it physical from being friends with J.D. (Zak Henri) or emotional, in that he wants to tell his friends the truth about himself, but can’t get the words out, hurts you as a viewer.
We see him running out of time, and we see the group wanting to try and make the most of this night, and if one person isn’t as committed to the party, exclusion begins. With each moment of doubt he feels, the exclusion grows, so he holds back on coming out to his friends. This truly gets to you as you just want him to blurt it out and for the group to accept and everyone to be happy. With so many things going on with all of these nervous teens, Gene struggles to find the words.
Refreshingly, Dramarama doesn’t have a tidy resolution; these characters arcs are not tied up into lovely little bows. These are teenagers transitioning from one part of their life to another equally messy one. They know they will all be in touch again; they will just be a little different by the time they meet up again, which is as true to life as you can get. While at times you expect grand proclamations of feelings to be uttered, characters are smart enough to guess and work it out unsaid. This confidence allows the story to flow smoothly as we reach the brightness of a new day. By not having our characters figure everything out, we allow them to go off and resolve it on their own, as anyone who is sent off to college or to start a new stage of their life.
One interesting titbit picked up on, though we hear and see characters parents, we never clearly see their face and are next to missing in the film. This focuses the story on the group, and by keeping it solely with the teenagers, Dramarama allows itself to stamp its own identity. These types of films will often have an elder there to give advice or be the antagonist. Here it is a lot more insular, and it works better for it.
Dramarama gets everything right and becomes the coming of age story that others strive to be. A film that surprises with how strongly it connects causing you to reminisce to your younger days when you were on the cusp of university. A terrific film.
To view more of our coverage of BFI Flare, please check out our other reviews below.
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