Adelaide, Australia in 2003. Fifteen-year-old Simon is hanging out with these friends one night in their upper-class suburb when they decide to vandalize a local girls’ private school, the latest gesture in inculcating their punk rock hooligan image.
In the course of their hijinks, however, they encounter a real gang, who don’t merely affect a hardened streetwise edge. They’re the real thing, and they see right through Simon and his friends, scaring them off through a chase through the suburbs.
The night continues to veer off-course, especially as a call to the cops in an attempt to get some justice goes particularly awry.
Based on a true story, this spirited action-comedy — directed by Stephen Packer and written by Michael H. Beck — is all about the sometimes vainglorious misadventures of being young, especially in the name of trying on new identities and exploring the world outside the bubble of family and school.
It’s easy to turn a story like this into farce or slapstick, but the excellent writing and directing keep this comedy on a fairly even keel, taking on a naturalistic look and feel, even as the pacing stays quicksilver and even buoyant. The camera and action are briskly paced, with an eye for engagement and an ear for understated deadpan wit and irony.
The story doesn’t unmask its central core of characters right away, setting them up as rebels and delinquents, though fairly tenuous ones. It’s not until Simon and his friends encounter a real group of edgier “thugs” — poorer, rougher in manner and more menacing — that the pretense begins to crumble, to low-key but comical effect. Embarrassed at being called out for their privilege and their pretense, the group tries to salvage their pride, but each move only seems to escalate their unmasking, much to their ever-deepening mortification.
“Hard Rubbish” has the gift of capturing teenage misadventure without leaning too heavily on nostalgia, and in the end, it achieves a strange, affectionate winsomeness in its comedy, especially in the final scenes when all pretense towards being edgy and punk rock falls away. After all, these are just a group of young boys in a game of pretending to be more savvy and lived-in than they really are. Which in and of itself is a marker of youth, where we try on personae and characters that gesture towards grown-up independence — but at the end of the day like to come home to a nice room and a midnight snack prepared by mom.