Dramarama is now available to rent or buy.
Thinking back to when I was 17, one thing is clear; my friends were my world; our day trips into London, small cosy house parties and trips to the cinema full of laughter, debate and joy. However, nothing is more certain in life than the reality that friendships change over time. And for many of us, the most significant change comes as we pack our bags and head to college or University. The old world born from our school days, bedroom dreams, and fight for independence suddenly transformed as the world opened up before us. For me, I remember the feeling of being torn in two, as I longed to leave the town that now felt like a prison while feeling unsure of the road ahead. Here, my small circle of friends was a comfort blanket that I knew I had to give up for my future.
On leaving for University, I remember the excitement, fear and hope of the journey, shielding the butterflies in my stomach from my parents with a confident disguise. I also remember telling myself that my friends would always be there and that we would always meet again. But, in truth, apart from a few meetings and days out, we all slowly drifted apart. Here the glue that had held us together (the town of our birth) was now a distant memory as we built new, more confident lives.
The friends I made at University stayed with me, and while we all now live in separate parts of the country, we keep in touch. But, the older I get, the more I find my mind drifting back to the friends I had as a teenager and the innocence, optimism and fun of pretending to be worldly and wise. In truth, we were all still hiding, discovering ourselves, our wants, desires and beliefs. Here our group’s safety was embedded in the need to belong in a scary big world of difficult choices.
Few films in recent years have managed to take me back to those confusing, exciting and emotional days before University, like Jonathan Wysocki’s Dramarama. His sharp, theatrical and beautiful exploration of endings and beginnings, both delicate, tender and humorous. Here his delightful screenplay explores the final days of teenage life through themes of belief, sexuality, acceptance, and apprehension. The result is a bright and fresh exploration of the people we once were and the place we once called home, as Wysocki helps to unlock our own memories.
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The year is 1994, and the place is California as the summer is drawing to an end and Autumn nips at its heels. In his bedroom 17-year-old, Gene (Nick Pugliese) stands wearing nothing but a pair of white boxer shorts. Gene’s thoughts are a jumble of competing needs as he prepares for a final murder mystery slumber party with his high school friends and drama club peers. On arrival, Gene finds the afternoon’s dramatic events in full swing. Here the hostess Rose (Barlow), is dressed as Miss Faversham, while the quiet Claire (Suri) is dressed as Lewis Caroll’s Alice. Meanwhile, Gene’s best friend Oscar (Greetham) is dressed as Sherlock Holmes, and the sassy Ally (Kay) is dressed in a flowing red gown.
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Gene had planned on being a pirate, but he arrives wearing braces, a cravat and eyeliner. Rose quickly scowls at his lateness and questions why he has come as Dr Jekyll. However, for Gene, Dr Jekyll fits his current state of mind; after all, tonight, Gene plans to introduce his friends to his Mr Hyde as he finally comes out of the closet. However, there’s one major problem, his friends are all religious, and their lives are held in a bubble of innocence, one Gene has begun to grow weary of as he accepts his own needs. But when Gene’s older, more streetwise friend JD (Zak Henri) unexpectedly arrives delivering pizza, the group find their loyalties tested like never before.
Dramarama quickly establishes its central characters through a friendship that feels believable, comic and full of unspoken love. The complex relationship between Gene and Oscar sits at the heart of this, where a simmering sexual tension is immediately apparent. Here Gene and Oscar’s high jinks and wrestling, born in boyhood, is now an uneasy practice of avoiding discussion or deeper emotional connection. Meanwhile, in our wider group, every young person bats away the adult world as it threatens to show its face, with nobody willing or able to give up the inner child still firmly at play.
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It is here where Wysocki’s film is at its most fascinating and engaging as each character sits in a self-created world of safety and imagination that keeps them secure in a world of bullying, judgement and popularity contests. Here their hidden fears, doubts and insecurities sit just below the surface of every conversation and interaction as the emerging adult screams to be set free from the cocoon of adolescence. Throughout Dramarama, each of Wysocki’s character’s debates how much to reveal as the hope and fears of a new beginning relentlessly tap on their shoulder. Here the humour, play-acting and games are a mere diversion from the discussions they long to have as they say goodbye.
Dramarama achieves something rare in transporting each viewer back to their own teenage experiences through a tender, engaging, yet highly complex movie. Here the final scenes of Dramarama are bound in the emotion of those bittersweet days where teenage life ended, and young adult life began. And while for me, those heady days before University involved a lot less religion and a lot more alcohol, I found parts of my own teenage self in each character.