The Ordinaries Review – An Inventive yet Slightly Over-Ambitious First Feature’

Do you ever feel you are sometimes the supporting character in another person’s story? The feeling where your sole purpose is to exist in the orbit of someone other than yourself? Director Sophie Linnenbaum has taken this feeling and amplified it on a level where an entire retro-futurist society captures that sensation, a world in which The Ordinaries only has three societal classes: Main Characters, Supporting Characters, and Outtakes.

This is a meta-filmic world, one that once you adjust to its movie-adjacent surroundings, you will find it is underpinned by a foundation of prejudice, fallacy, and exclusion. The Ordinaries is a story about those on the fringes of such a dystopia, one that inspires rebellion and self-expression in the face of artificial demarcation. A film where if you are on board with its esoteric and Orwellian palette – you will probably get a lot out of it.

Paula (Fine Sendel) is a ‘Supporting Character’, one that believes she is deserving of a greater status and is in training to be a ‘Main Character’. Paula is best friends with Hannah Cooper (Sira Faal), a girl who was privileged enough to be born into a family of ‘Main Characters’ who break into musical numbers. They have the social standing of a bloodline that allows them to be successful. Their success is further cemented by the Institute (where Hannah’s mother works) which oversees Storyland and controls the power dynamic between the classes. Paula’s father, a Main, has died in a massacre, but the details behind it are unknown. She struggles to express her emotions because she lacks the expression that a ‘Main Character’ is allowed but has an intense desire to find out more about her family’s past. Paula has the support of her mother Elise (Jule Böwe), but due to her status, Elise is only allowed to speak in short dialogue.

Hilde, a “miscast”, works as a maid for the Coopers. When Paula finds that she cannot locate her father’s flashbacks in the Institute, Hilde suggests that perhaps he is on another list, which leads Paula to the forbidden ghettos of the ‘Outtakes’. This is a place where forbidden truths are revealed, societal lies are unravelled, and the quest for self-perception becomes all the clearer.

The comparisons to many other dystopias will be prevalent. Whether it be The Truman Show, Brazil, or even one of the more high-concept Black Mirror entries, director and co-screenwriter Sophie Linnenbaum has taken wide inspiration in creating her world. The unique nature to The Ordinaries however comes in its technicalities. If a character is getting phased out of this world, they fade in and out of the screen. When you meet an ‘outtake’, these are characters who appear in black and white, often pixelated and glitching within the frame. Certain scenes will cut the frame itself to black during the more rebellious moments to halt the plight of the outtakes – Linnenbaum is clearly not afraid to push the boundary on form or style. The sound design is especially unique at accompanying these science fiction concepts with ease – every crackle, voice change and feigned recording feel clever and assured. The ability to shine a light on certain characters within a fictional world just like the movies is an ambitious thing to achieve, and while this feels too bloated and overlong at times, it is an inventive first-time feature.

While its narrative sometimes feels overly broad, there is a powerful theme of class imbalance that grounds the more bizarre elements. Linnembaum has stated that “identity is built on exclusion, justified by an imaginative norm, stabilising structures of power”. The Ordinaries is built to destabilise such structures, encouraging people such as Paula to take the reins on their own destiny – despite what societal box you are told to stay within. While all its commentary is sound, there is a certain staleness to a lot of the moments leading up to its inspiring conclusion, including many sections of busywork that pad the runtime. Paula is played with doe-eyed sadness by Sendel for most of the elongated runtime; she has a worthy plight, but the journey getting there feels at times laborious. While its worldbuilding is admirable, the visual landscape could feel more striking, and its editing could feel more truncated.

The Ordinaries dreams big with an inventive premise and well-intentioned commentary. It never fully succeeds at being a fantasy, a comedy, and a drama all at the same time, but if you accept its bolder dystopian elements as a fable, you will find the film a cut above the ordinary.

Director: Sophie Linnenbaum

Cast: Fine Sendel, Henning Peker, Sira-Anna Faal

Writers: Sophie Linnenbaum, Michael Fetter Nathansky

Kahn Duncan

Kahn is a passionate Melbourne based film lover who looks to film as a tool for both entertainment, education, but also feeling. Attempts to watch at least one feature film a day, but unfortunately life gets in the way sometimes. Prospective Graduate of Media Communications (Screen Studies) and Business (Marketing) at Monash University.

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