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Within the first five minutes of the tender Aussie romance-drama, I Met a Girl, a feeling of deception slides over you. Our lead, Devon (Brenton Thwaites), has disrupted his brother’s wedding, stabbed himself in the chest with a broken bottle, and received electro-shock therapy. And that’s before he tries to take his own life.
Director Luke Eve and writer Glen Dolman have delivered a proudly grounded, human experience with I Met a Girl that lingers longer in your mind than the possible light rom-com filmic creation that the base synopsis would suggest. After his initial life stumbles, Devon meets the girl of his dreams, Lucy (Lily Sullivan), and spends the day with her feeling the warmth of love and romance wash over him as the minutes tick by. After setting up a dinner to introduce Lucy to his brother, Nick (Joel Jackson), and she doesn’t turn up, the reality that maybe Lucy isn’t real further reveals the difficulties of mental illness that Devon lives with.
With a truly powerful performance from Brenton Thwaites, I Met a Girl manages to powerfully present the internal struggle that those who live with the various skewed realities that mental illnesses can conjure up for those who live with them. Devon lives with schizophrenia, and does so with an understanding compassion from Nick and Nick’s wife Olivia (Zahra Newman) who provide him with a home and food. On paper, alongside the mental health support that Devon needs, it seems he has all he needs to live a steady life.
But, as is the case for many folks who live with mental illnesses, finding the right balance of medications and societal support can be difficult. For Devon, the daily toll of literally mind-numbing medications that suffocate more than they foster a fruitful existence weathers upon his mind, allowing the hallucinations of various entities to make their way into his reality. Glen Dolman’s script is keenly aware of the complexities of medications, with a notable line about one antipsychotic medication working against another antipsychotic medication highlighting how hard the search for some kind of mind ballast can be.
There’s an echo of Sam Worthington’s performance in the superb Paper Planes from Brenton Thwaites here, where an actor who has ‘made it’ in Hollywood is able to return to Australia to stretch their creative muscles and remind us why they were successful in the first place. Thwaites navigates the role of Devon brilliantly, playing him as someone keenly aware of his illness, almost overcorrecting to be the kindest and most caring person he can be, to a fault. While I’m personally not able to talk of the authenticity of Thwaites portrayal of the illness, it’s clear that there’s a deep level of empathy from Thwaites, eager to honour those who live with schizophrenia as best as possible.
Supporting turns from Joel Jackson, Zahra Newman, and Lily Sullivan, elevate Thwaites at every turn. Jackson and Newman respectfully showcase how important supportive family members can be, while also highlighting the difficulties that come with being a carer. Lily Sullivan confidently masters the role of a character who simply isn’t there, neatly presenting the act of a man learning to love himself, yet equally feeling like her own entity. While I Met a Girl feels a little bloated as the machinations of the third act roll out, it’s Thwaites and Sullivan’s comfortable chemistry together that help deliver a welcome satisfying emotional climax and conclusion, making the film an overall memorable experience.
Films about mental illnesses run the risk of being inauthentic, disrespectful, or highly performative, and it’s a blessing that I Met a Girl is none of these things. Luke Eve’s direction is considerate and caring, creating a piece that seeks to strip away the destructive and harmful depictions of schizophrenia on film. While Brenton Thwaites Hollywood career appears to be continuing indefinitely, hopefully he’s afforded the chance to deliver performances like this in the future.
Cast: Brenton Thwaites, Joel Jackson, Lily Sullivan
Writer: Glen Dolman
(As a Freo-loving film critic, getting to see the harbour city and its unique personality on screen was a genuine joy that I hadn’t experienced before. The distinctly-Freo streets and the nighttime glow of the wharf lights created a skewed Australian vibe that worked as a neat reflection to Devon’s journey. If Fremantle does eventually become home to a film studio, then the cities streets will find themselves in great use.)
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