Saturday, September 26, 2015
We always get to a film during school holidays. The obvious choice would have been Oddball, the new Australian film about the unlikely friendship between a penguin and a labrador, but Otto – already ten years of age – remembered the trailer for Gayby Baby (Maya Newell, 2015) from our Jim Henson fest at the Nova some time back, and had it in his sights. I could see its appeal. The documentary features four kids aged between 9 and eleven as they navigate life – school work, sibling relationships and passions – in family's with same sex parents. It tells the story of Gus, Ebony, Graham and Matt, and their relationship with themselves, their parents and the world outside their font door as they negotiate acceptance and their own sense of belonging.
In each of the stories Newell has found a satisfying narrative: Gus' campaign to persuade his mums to accept his passion for crazy-ass WWF wrestling; Ebony's audition and hopes to be accepted into a socially progressive performing arts high school; Graham's struggles with literacy, the legacy of a heartbreaking early childhood; and Matt's unenviable situation – working out whether he believes in Jesus when his church considers his mother, a lesbian and full-on Christian, a sin against God.
I was expecting an interesting film but I was surprised by its beauty. Newell's sure sense of craft is evident at every level, from casting to cinematography, editing and sound. Gayby Baby also uses setting to create contrast: messy bedrooms, rain soaked sports ovals, the fecund tropical gardens of Fiji. Newell's approach to narrative – focusing on change and moving between the individual and collective, the private to public – borrows from fiction films to superb effect.
The drama is not in the same-sex relationships: the relationships represented, what we see of them, are all loving and functional. It's in the struggles all parents of children face: negotiating difference, relegating resources, providing support and boundary setting. What stays with me – other than the kids irrepressible sense of fun – is the ordinary and yet moving portraits of family life, the love and hopes that parents have for their children and what effort familial love inspires. Gayby Baby finishes on an uplifting note and the joyful celebration of Madi Gras. No shame. The shame is mine, for this country and its cruel, outdated laws.