Josie's world is split between her home and family in inner western Sydney and her school, a prestigious private Catholic girls' school in the eastern suburbs. Here, under the watchful eye of headmistress Sister Louise (Kerry Walker) she and her friends from the wrong side of town negotiate the taunts of the ruling in-group, led by Carly Bishop (Leanna Walsman), the Anglo-Australian princess. Josie's desire to be a part of the privileged world of middle class Australia is at odds with her chaotic, unconventional home life - and with her own strong and individualistic spirit.
Her confusion is heightened by her first experiences of love, in which she finds herself torn between the handsome, high achieving private school boy John Barton (Matthew Newton) and the scruffy, non conformist Jacob Coote (Kick Gurry).
And then she suddenly has to negotiate a relationship with a third man - Michael Andretti (Anthony Lapaglia), the father who she has never met.
When I heard that a movie version of Looking for Alibrandi was going to be made back in the late part of the 90s, I was ecstatic as well as filled with dread. What would happen if my favourite novel was completely bastardised into something that in no way resembled the quintessential novel of my youth? I think that is a valid fear, many of us have seen film version of our beloved books and it's been traumatising. But I was able to breathe a huge sigh of relief when I discovered that the author, Melina Marchetta, was writing the screenplay.
Some of you may not be familiar with the book (if so read it now) and some of you may not have realised that there is a film version. Regardless, know that this tale has been guarded well. There are many things to love in this movie. Whether Pia Miranda's vibrant, vulnerable and biting Josie, Greta Scacchi's very restrained performance as Christina or Italian actress, Elena Cotta's powerhouse performance as Katia - you will love the Alibrandi's as realised on film.
Then there are the boys. Anthony LaPaglia (Without a Trace) plays Michael Andretti, the father Josie never knew and he's charismatic and emotive. Miranda and LaPaglia even look related and their shared scenes are delicate, powerful and never compromising. Kick Gurry's Jacob (above)was a concern, he wasn't what I envisoned but his line delivery and his ability to make me both love and hate him demonstrates his innate understanding of that character. Matthew Newton gives a wonderfully understated and intuitive performance as the repressed dreamboat, John.
There is not a weak link in the chain here and you'll find yourself swept along with the magic that is Marchetta's story. There are wonderful scenes that one won't forget; Josie contentedly smiling as she hears her father snoring, the bedroom fight (if you read the book you'll know what I am referencing) and her grandmother's confession.
I love the book and I love this movie. When the movie credit were rolling, back in 2000, I was focused on what wasn't in the movie - the dance dress was wrong, there were character's merged, scene's missing. Now I look at it as a honest, loyal representation of a much beloved novel. I would like to make special mention of two things. 1) Kerry Walker was exactly as I envisioned Sister Louise and I loved her for it and 2) the letter exchange scene is bordering on sublime.