Having grown up with her mother in Nevada, Heidi (Rachael Taylor) hasn't spoken to her father since she was seven. Now a young woman, haunted by his memory, she returns to Australia seeking closure. Travelling to her hometown, Heidi is forced to busk for cash and her melancholic violin score catches the attention of handsome orange picker Michael (Alex Dimitriades), who offers Heidi a ride. Both are initially guarded, but an unexpected connection soon blossoms.

2.5
Oz melodrama amid the orange groves needs more juice.

Australian writer-director Richard Gray fought long and hard to get his first film financed after writing the script in 2004, competing in Project Greenlight the following year and getting second place, which meant he missed the $1 million top prize.

So it pains me to report that Summer Coda is disappointing, an under-nourished, spasmodically involving melodrama set largely amid the orange groves of Mildura in rural Victoria.

The chief weakness is a meandering, shapeless narrative which, unlike the ripe fruit the characters pick, lacks juice. Compounding that are two protagonists who aren’t especially intriguing or nuanced, and under-written supporting characters which squander the talents of Susie Porter and Jacki Weaver.

Rachel Taylor plays Heidi, a Nevada-based violinist who returns to her native Australia to attend the funeral of her father whom she hadn’t seen since her parents split up when she was seven.

We’re not told much else about Heidi’s background beyond a few morsels such as the fact she’s had a string of 'idiot boyfriends," her dad was a disc jockey who sometimes let her announce songs, and he gave her the violin. We do know that while she can afford the return airfare she has little money and is also sorely lacking in common sense. How else to explain the fact she catches a cab from Melbourne airport to a country town to visit an old neighbour (Weaver, seen all too briefly) who had rung to tell her that her dad had died?

Evidently unaware that trains and buses service rural Victoria, thereafter she hitches rides, the first with a pig who tries to get fresh with her, the second with laconic orchardist Michael (Alex Dimitriades).

After a brush with several middle-aged hoons in a pub (don’t nice, civilised people frequent such places any more?), they end up at the funeral in Mildura, where Heidi has an uncomfortable encounter with her dad’s second wife (Porter) and her teenage son.

Too shy or unwilling to get to know her stepmother and half-brother, Heidi intends to leave town but discovers only goods trains are passing through, and so elects to call on Michael. He offers to let her stay to pick oranges, joining his customary band of pickers, and one senses that romance will soon blossom among the groves.

Michael lives alone and claims he’s never been married, but Gray drops some heavy hints about a tragedy in the man’s past"¦ clues which are obvious to everyone except Heidi. All this takes a very long time to unfold, interspersed with much picking of fruit, chatting with the other workers over dinner, and frolicking in the river Murray. Angus Sampson brings a welcome comic touch as picker Frankie, a clown who fancies himself as a ladies’ man. The ending is predictable, trite and unconvincing.

As for the leads, well, Aussie actress Taylor shows a wider range of emotions here than she did in Transformers, which isn’t saying much. But she lacks presence and her expressions – grief, regret, uncertainty, amusement – are superficial. The ever-dependable Dimitriades does the best he can with a character who understandably has intimacy issues and is introspective for much of the film.

The cinematography is an asset and the Mildura region looks so lustrous and vivid that some scenes could be repurposed as a Tourism Victoria ad.