Australian coming of age family film Rip Tide, directed by Rhiannon Bannenberg (Ambrosia) and written by Georgia Harrison (The_27_Club), stars Debby Ryan (Disney’s Jessie) as a New York City model who finds more than she bargained for when she decides to move Down Under.
Cora is a NYC teen model that is absolutely hating life, largely thanks to her helicopter mum Sofia (Danielle Carter, Offspring) controlling everything in her life, from her clothing choices right up to her hopes and dreams. Mum is a high-end fashionista who runs a successful label, you see, and so her role in Cora’s life combines being a rubbish parent with being a mean and degrading boss to boot; win-win. Already sad and lonely, things quickly escalate for Cora as she gets chewed out by head designer Farriet (Marcus Graham, Jack Irish). She provides him with some feedback about his latest dress, he goes nuts, and Cora has a breakdown. As she flees, panda-eyed and sobbing, she falls – literally – right into a collective of soulless and opportunistic press, who waste little time in capturing her fall from grace, turning this mini emotional outburst into a viral, global event.
Having had a gutful of it all, Cora arranges a clandestine first-class flight from NYC to the sleepier climes of the Australian beachside (filmed at Killalea beach in Shellharbour, Illawarra). She stays with her cool, ex-pro surfer aunt Margot (Genevieve Hegney, The Kettering Incident) as a means to escape the judgemental people and flashing lights of her previous life, stepping boldly into the unknown. As to be expected, this adjustment period takes time and a toll, and the film attempts a few fish-out-water moments for laughs; aunt Margot doesn’t have Wi-Fi, Cora plays “fruit baseball” in heels. Despite enjoying the quieter culture, Cora finds that she still has unfinished business with her mother and the fashion industry.
Via a series of flashback dreams, we learn that aunt Margot is trying to escape demons of her own, having lost her beloved husband to the ocean she once loved. She refuses to go back into the deep blue sea, as she feels that in doing so it would indicate that she’s OK with the fact it stole her one true love. A family in crisis, and people at crossroads.
Family and coming of age movies have every opportunity to be feel-good flicks. Watching someone get comfortable in their own skin in the face of opposition or adversity can elicit positive and uplifting emotions, and a really good instalment of this genre can integrate its messages into the viewer by having them look inward and unto their own situations. Sadly, despite having a good heart, Rip Tide doesn’t reach such lofty heights.
The acting is uneven, and the only consistently shining star is supporting actress Valerie Bader (East of Everything) in her turn as sage older lady Bee. Ryan lacks the finesse to play the good-hearted but pampered brat that Cora was written to be, and aunt Margot’s accent fritters unevenly and inexplicably between Australian and Aussie-doing-bad-American. And the comic-relief role of “Chicka” (played by Naomi Sequiera, The Evermore Chronicles) falls very flat due to her frankly bizarre and cringe-worthy execution (although some of her dialogue has to be blamed). Chicka creates a jarring and uncomfortable experience. Being cute and bouncing around with energy is far from enough when trying to pull off such a character.
Additionally, the plot just feels a little thin and all too familiar. A reinvention of the wheel is unnecessary in any new film of any genre, however occasionally challenging audience expectations and deviating from regular tropes and outcomes is something that would have greatly benefited Rip Tide, and would have dragged it above countless other films like it.
It isn’t all total gloom though, with some of the other supports also doing their job competently. The impossibly ripped “boy next door” Tom is played well by Andrew Creer (Barracuda). His character has warmth, heart and he carries out his role as local soothsayer and Cora’s love interest with regular aplomb. Additionally, Margot’s business competitor Owen (played the reliable Aaron Jeffery, McLeod’s Daughters) has depth.
Whilst the portrayal of a lot of its characters is often uneven and the messages are occasionally heavy-handed and obvious, it does have moments that are reasonably uplifting and heartfelt. Still, Rip Tide would have benefitted from challenging the viewer more, and by being more stringent with its casting – or at the very least which cuts were allowed to make the grade. Some of the film’s scenes and, sadly, cast members are simply not up to scratch.
What aims to be a heartfelt and emotional journey is let down by not properly nailing down the portrayals and depictions of its characters, nor the array of complex and varied emotions that such a film and tale requires.
THE REEL SCORE: 4/10