Do audiences hate Alison Ashley, too?

Another sad thing to report on the Australian film front, as yet another ‘great white hope’ looks set to segue into ‘big flat flop.’ Apparently, the film version of Robin Klein’s well-loved, funny, tender and whimsical novel of school and family life, Hating Alison Ashley, is not doing anywhere near as well as expected.
The film was released just before the Easter break, and in its first week 60,000 people went to see it. But in the second week, takings had dropped by 28 percent, suggesting word of mouth was crook, and certainly the reviews also have been rather underwhelming. Of course, it may yet recover–school holiday timing this autumn, at least in NSW, has been rather weird, because we had 4 days off at Easter, then back to school for two weeks, then schools are breaking up again on Friday for another two weeks. The young girls and families the movie’s aimed at may not have had time yet to go and see it, and may yet flock into the cinemas.
I haven’t seen the film, so I can’t really comment on its quality, apart from the fact that it seemed odd indeed to me to make the characters older–in the novel they’re closer to 13 than 15–and also to cast Delta Goodrem as Alison Ashley.

I guess that last thing was a blatant attempt to woo the teenage girl vote, but apparently Delta looks much too old for the role. By upping the age of the protagonists(and adding a romantic element that’s not in the book) it seemed to me that the film-makers were aiming at an older age group than the readers of the novel–which is generally read by older primary-school kids and maybe kids in the first year or two of high school. The problem is also that Hating Alison Ashley, the book, is now 20 years old, and though kids who were at primary/early secondary school in the 80′s and early 90′s most likely read it, I’m not sure that’s the case now. My eldest, Philippa, who’s 23 now, read it and loved it when she was 13 or so; our second, Xavier, who’s 18, read it–encouraged by us–when he was 11 or so; but their younger brother, our third child Bevis, who’s 15, has not bothered with it at all, and I’m not sure many of his friends, male or female, have read it, or even know of it either. However, hopefully that’ll change–apparently the novel’s just been reprinted, with a film tie-in cover(naturally with Delta’s face on the cover), and apparently that’s doing very well and in fact going into the bestseller lists.
Part of the reason for the fact less kids are reading Robin Klein’s books(which, if you have kids of that age, I’d whole-heartedly recommend), is because of the fact that poor Robin, who was once one of Australia’s most famous and most loved authors for children, has been unable to write or even go out in public for some years now. She was stricken down with an aneurysm, in the very middle of writing a book(part of a gorgeous trilogy about her childhood, growing up in the late forties and early fifties in a small Australian country town)and though she has recovered, her brain hasn’t fully, and she’s had to live in a nursing home for some years. Happily, I’ve heard just recently that she is slowly getting better, but she’ll never be able to write again, and was unable to attend the film’s premiere. In the literary world, and especially in the children’s book world, if you disappear off the circuit of school visits, speeches, festivals and the like, you very quickly drop out of sight. If the publicity for this film–if not the film itself– helps to kickstart interest in her novels again–not only Hating Alison Ashley, but the Penny Pollard books, Came Back to Show You I Could Fly, People Might Hear You, Dresses of Red and Gold, and so on–then it will be a wonderful thing indeed. But what a wasted opportunity, nevertheless, if it turns out the film has made a hash of the book’s lighthearted yet moving charm..
When a film and a book mesh well–as is the case, for instance, with Melina Marchetta’s equally well-loved teenage novel, Looking for Alibrandi(which the author adapted herself) it is a most singular pleasure. When it doesn’t–as is the case, for instance, with Robert Drewe’s spare, poetic novella about Ned Kelly, Our Sunshine, which was made into the recent lamentable film Ned Kelly–well, at least the author can think, the film tie-in book will sell, due to the publicity, before word of mouth kills the screen version stone dead.

28 thoughts on “Do audiences hate Alison Ashley, too?

  1. The film is quite good I thought, but suffers from all the shortcomings you’ve anticipated Sophie. Delta is her spacey self – a strange one that Delta. And it suffers from targeting the mid teenage market. The person playing the heroine was terrific, and a final scene between herself and her step father was very moving. He was the innocent. Reminds one of Bob Dylan’s line “I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now”.

    Now (at the risk of repeating something I said on a post several months ago) those New Zealanders sure can make films. If the film “In my father’s den” is now available on DVD or VCR it is required viewing for all Troppodillians – and questions have already been set on it for the annual Troppo comprehension test.

  2. It suffers from the problem that all films have when one girl is meant to be much better looking than the other.

    They didn’t choose actresses where one is much better looking than the other. Which misses the point.

    The other problem being they don’t look anything like schoolkids.

  3. Even among my contemporaries (I’m 23 as well) I think Robin Klein’s work was already fading a little during the early 90s. Hating Alison Ashley was supplanted by John Marsden’s Tomorrow When the War Began series. I’m well out of the target market for the movie now and I almost certainly won’t see it. But I really liked People Might Hear You when I was 12 or so. I’m sorry to hear that Klein suffered from such a tragedy and that she will not recover enough to write again :(

  4. Patrick’s right. Saskia Burmeister is BETTER looking than Barbie Goodrem, and certainly acts her off the screen.

    The fact that the actresses were much older than their roles is an inevitable problem with casting: how many 13-year olds have the maturity to “act” like 13-year olds? This fact, and the commercial necessity to target older teenagers, probably explain both the casting and the plot deviations Sophie referred to.

    My biggest complaint with the movie, after the casting was the sheer lack of humour. It simply wasn’t funny. Not having read the book, I wasn’t sure of what to expect, but either the original book or its adaptation were lacking. Given the popularity of the book, I’m guessing it’s the latter.

  5. It’s a real pity the film isn’t funny, because the book certainly is–but like most good books, it depends for its humour on word play and language and characterisation, and if the adaptation doesn’t pick that up, then that’s a problem. I found the same problem with the first Harry Potter film(and indeed so did lots of other viewers/readers, of all ages,who’d loved the book but found the film flat). The charm of Rowling’s books, like Klein’s, doesn’t just lie in the sheer inventiveness and magic of it, or a great storyline–it also relies on excellent if archetypal characters, and lots of fun with language, puns, allusion, and irony.
    BTW I think the HP films have improved over the years–the 3rd one was the best. But they’re still not a patch on the books.

  6. Sophie,

    Agree with you on the HP fillums, though the last two were particularly good adaptations to the screen. The first one was, if anything, over-faithful to the book and was consequently too long and lacked pace.

  7. Kimberella,

    Probably not, but one of the two instances where I’ve commented on she-who-must-not-be-named was in response to Mme. Masson’s question. I actually wasted a morning seeing “her” film, and let’s just say my opinion of her acting ability pulled out the shovel after hitting rock-bottom. My sardonic teasing aside, I’m actually with Ausculturejess on this one: DG is an over-promoted plastic hack. Saskia Burmeister, OTOH, is worth seeing in the movie – when it’s a weekly cheapy from your local DVD outlet.

  8. Just teasing, Fyodor. I agree about Ms G.

    I was also disappointed by the reviews of the movie – I haven’t read the book but it sounded good.

  9. I have been reading an adaption of Hating Alison … as a play and am thinking about staging scenes with year 8 students. The only way I could approach this play in order to engage these students is to present it as a period piece. The language and culture locate it in Melbourne, south eastern suburbs, late 70s to early 80′s. I will watch the film with interest. How could it not be funny? The play is a comedy. Poignant, searching, happy ending. A comedy that underlines the excruciating indequacies that abound in early adolescence.

  10. Do you two only communicate via internet?

    Re HAA I can’t understand why anyone who saw DG on Neighbours would think she can act. The only reason I canthink she got the role was that there are no other well known young actors that could act as the draw for the movie.
    All the reviews and comments I have heard the only thing saving the film is Saskia. Apparently she is excellent

  11. Also jen, did you remember to pick up your laptop?

    re Delta, I’m reminded of the Russian watching American newsreaders for the first time and remarking that their only distingushing feature was that they had none.

  12. Nabs

    Yes, she did, but the bloody thing’s infected with viruses again already. The bastards obviously didn’t fix it. And I’m glad you asked, because it gives me the chance to seque seemlessly into yet another domestic message. Territory Technology just returned jen’s call on my mobile a few minutes ago (jen seldom remembers to carry her mobile). I told them about the recurrence of the problem and that jen would probably drop the laptop back first thing in the morning. Bet you’re glad you asked, aren’t you? Now I wonder whether we need any milk or bread?

  13. ken fer kristakes – don’t take a computer problem to a computer shop. If the only tool you know how to use is a hammer everything looks like a nail.

    explain problem ask yr readership. we’ll help. when wre sober at least

  14. fxh is much a snappy online monicker Franky. Now you don’t sound so much like an old car. Bumped into mallrat earlier this evening who agreed we must get you out for a drink soon, and some spiritual and sartorial counselling. What’s yer fancy date and timewise?

  15. When a good children’s book becomes a good film it’s a wonderful thing. So many kids will go back to the source. My daughter (who doesn’t read as much as I’d like) fell in love with the Alibrandi film when she was really young & has read & read & reread the book (similar to the HP phenomenon). I just wish Marchetta was as prolific as JKR.

  16. ….that’s right Nab just USE the space, just make yourself RIGHT at home. Don’t worry for us internet cripples up here in troppholia. Parish, poor thing, has no functioning email, and me? Well, I have no computer at all. There’s no broadband, no wireless, we can only dial up. We are presently in communications HELLhole. And YOUR jumping on the bandwagon of our GENUINE misfortune is not making ANYONE up here feel ANY better.

    Thanks for sharing jen.

    ….And another thing, FXH THE PROBLEM IS that the damn thing won’t go. A hammer you reckon? I’ve got one and I’m pretty darn handy with it too. It works for defrosting the fridge, I’ll get back to you re effectiveness on recalcitrant viruses. Could be a go.

  17. Has anyone been to Beelzebublog lately? I tried to go and have a look, but got told it wasn’t there anymore. It it a broken link or my server?

  18. Mindy

    On Beelzebublog, I tried visiting the other day and foud the same thing. ‘Carolinkus’ closed her blog down once before and removed the whole thing, and then subsequently thought better of it and reinstated it. I hope she does the same again, because her gentle, quirky sensibility is rare and its absence would be a sad loss to the blogosphere.

  19. Hating Alison Ashley is different depends wat types fo view u c it in i was in the play for Young Peoples Theatre and it was really gud there are more things of hating alison ashley ten just the new movie
    Jen xoxox

  20. I liked Alison Ashley when I was a kid, but you know which Robin Klein book (this one was my favourite) someone should adapt to screen? “Laurie Loved Me Best”. It has the best characters and spans comedy, tragedy and pathos. Really sad to hear about Robin Klein’s health, she’s such a great children’s writer.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.