Sixteen-year-old Tony Hobb's life is caught between duty, despair and
hope for the future, and he's forced to make a life-changing decision.

A coming of age drama that explores the delicate relationship between a young mother and her teenage son after the recent death of his father.

Local rites of passage drama scores a goal.

Over two years have passed since Pene Patrick’s debut feature was produced, and Playing For Charlie’s resemblance to the sort of films the Australian industry was making at the time is obvious. It casts a look at the dark heart of suburbia and its impact on a good person’s potential, as did other 2007/08 films such as Christopher Weekes’ Bitter & Twisted, Elissa Downs’ The Black Balloon, Cathy Randall’s Hey Hey It’s Esther Blueberger, Cherie Nowlan’s Clubland, Daniel Krige’s West, Dan Castle’s Newcastle and Anthony Hayes’ Ten Empty.

But, like The Black Balloon (and unlike the rest of those films), Playing For Charlie rises above its stock material with an empathetic commitment to its characters’ emotional lives. As the mechanics of the story grind on, the audience is rewarded with a strong connection; the lives in Patrick’s film feel warmly familiar.

Jared Taperis plays Tony, a promising high-school rugby player who exudes a determined optimism in all he does. He has been dealt a steady stream of setbacks in the year leading up to the events in the film – his father has passed away; his young mother Laura (Jodie Rimmer) has been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis and works double-shifts to support both Tony and teething toddler Charlie; and his older step-brother Scarf (Mark Leonard Winter) is getting into some not-so-petty crime.

The only ray of hope in Tony’s life is rugby Coach Joe (a terrific Shane Connor), whose degree of commitment to his young protege’s future is reminiscent of the bond shared by some of the great on-screen sports coaches in movie history. If the bespectacled Tony is to be considered for the State team, he needs Scarf to lend him money for contact lenses. This favour sets in motion a widening and maddening chain of events that threaten all that Tony holds dear – the responsibilities he has for his family, Coach Joe’s respect and belief in him, and his own hopes for a better life for he and his baby brother.

The contradictions of lower-middle-class suburbia are brought to life in accomplished widescreen cinematography by Leilani Hannah, and the thoughtful score by Lisa Gerrard (whose gentle, tonal atmospherics recaptures the existential teen-angst that highlighted her acclaimed score for Niki Caro’s Whale Rider) give the film a polished look that belies what was a relatively low budget.

But it is Jared Taperis who embodies the tension and humanity of Patrick’s script and he proves a major find. With his pimply skin and eye problems, he’s every teenager we’ve ever known or been. But he’s also an old spirit who, even at his young age, understands the truth of what is most important to one’s young life. Taperis gives a performance beyond his years, coming across as a young leading man cut from the 80’s John Cusack/00’s Aaron Johnson cloth. In a just world, his work in Playing for Charlie should kick-start a long career in film, both home and abroad.

The only question left unanswered about Patrick’s fine film is 'Why the delayed, single-cinema release?’ Having won over audiences at the 2008 Sydney Film Festival (when this scribe first saw the film), the film proves every bit the crowd-pleaser (and, by no small measure, better than) the A$2.2million-grossing The Black Balloon. Make the effort to seek out Playing for Charlie, and you will be rewarded.