Precocious teenager Placid Lake (Ben Lee) finishes high school and decides to do the one thing that will annoy his selfish new-age parents the most – go straight! With a few weeks spent reading a library of self-help manuals, Placid has it all sorted out – and he has the haircut and cheap suit to prove it. But will the road to conformity and corporate success prove too fraught for this all-knowing, all-seeing teen?
When Placid Lake was a little boy, his mother (Miranda Richardson) sent him to school wearing a dress, just so he could experience sexuality from a different point of view. As a result, the poor kid was constantly the victim of bullies, though he found a soul-mate in the studious Gemma. Years have passed since then, but Placid (Ben Lee) still lives with his mum and dad (Garry McDonald), ageing hippies with an eccentric outlook on the world. Gemma (Rose Byrne) lost her mother when she was 8; her possessive father (Nicholas Hammond) wants her to be a scientist. Placid's idea of rebellion is to make a video which turns out to be most unflattering to just about everyone around him, but after he falls from the school roof, he undergoes a change.
The basic idea of this interesting film, which was adapted by first-time director, Tony McNamara, from his own play, The Cafe Latte Kid, is similar to that of Peter Carey's Bliss where the protagonist undergoes radical character changes after a near-death experience. As a study of a troubled teenager, the film doesn't begin to compare with the best that American independent cinema has to offer these days – Donnie Darko, for instance. Singer Ben Lee doesn't have a very assertive screen presence, and though that in some ways suits the character of Placid, it also makes for a slightly pallid centre to the film. The movie is most successful as a romantic love story and Rose Byrne is, once again, terrific. Miranda Richardson and Garry McDonald have great fun with the roles of Placid's preposterous parents, and there's a strong supporting cast. This is certainly one of the better Australian films of the year.