Review: Natural beauty and a heartwarming eco-tale centered on the female-forward ‘Blueback’

The gorgeous and lyrical “Blueback” is a touching mother-daughter (and fish) drama, as well as a beautifully shot piece of memory that will reward patient viewers who can settle in and enjoy the film’s low-key atmosphere.

There’s something comfortably old-fashioned yet vitally female-fronted about this heartwarming eco-tale, directed and written by Robert Connolly, based on Tim Winton’s 1998 novel (gets an “additional write-up” here).

The action begins when dedicated marine biologist Abby Jackson (Mia Wasikowska) is called back to her childhood home on Australia’s west coast after her mother, Dora (Liz Alexander), suffers a life-changing stroke. (Southwest Australia’s dazzling Bremer Bay served as the story’s fictional Longboat Bay.)

Abby’s return to her idyllic hometown sparks memories of her youth and her early fascination with the ocean and its surroundings. We first travel back to 8-year-old Abby (played by Ariel Donoghue), when her love of the aquatic began with an underwater encounter with a western blue shearwater, a giant reef-dwelling fish that can live up to and 70 years. . The encounter began her unusual friendship with this striking, soulful creature, whom she affectionately called Blueback for its cobalt color.

The film continues to shift between the present and the past as the grown-up Abby patiently tries to run with stories, paintings and other remnants of the shared past of her struggling mother who has a speech delay and a blank memory.

Most of the flashbacks find Abby at 15 (well played by Ilsa Fogg) and involve her close but occasionally combative relationship with the then fiery Dora (an excellent Radha Mitchell), an environmental activist who fights to save the ocean and of its endangered species. Of particular interest to Dora, and by extension Abby, is a luxury residence proposed by a local developer (Erik Thomson) that threatens not only their beach house but also the bay and its precious natural resources.

Mother and daughter have been a long-term duo since Dora’s husband—Abby’s dad—disappeared years ago, the presumed victim of a pearl diving accident. But while Dora takes a take-no-prisoners approach to her commitment to the environment (she’s especially wary of local overfishing), Abby, though passionate about the land and the sea, can be a bit more circumspect. This sometimes infuriates Dora, but, as possibly two sides of the same coin, they always find their way back to each other – even when it involves Abby’s plans for a future away from Dora’s favorite Longboat trick.

But it’s the underwater scenes, especially after younger Abby and Dora’s dips in the ocean, that give the film its particular power. Cinematographer Andrew Commis and his camera crew excitingly capture life under Australian waters (filmed on the country’s northwest Ningaloo Reef) in all its colorful, exotic glory. As for Blueback, as authentic as the big fish look, it’s actually a state-of-the-art animatronic puppet enhanced with further visual effects.

There is also an exciting late arrival of a group of blow whales. This is definitely a movie for nature lovers.

Eric Bana, who starred in the critically acclaimed 2020 crime drama The Dry, makes a welcome, if brief, appearance as a lovably unruly local fisherman. The capable cast also includes Pedrea Jackson as teenage Abby’s friend and romantic interest, Briggs, as well as Clarence Ryan as the grown-up Briggs.

“Blueback” might be a little too dreary, laid-back, and serious-minded for the kid audience it’s ostensibly hoping to attract. That’s not to say it’s not a worthy family film – it is – and a worthy family film as well. It is also a vivid reminder of the urgent need to protect our increasingly fragile ecosystem at all costs.

An inspired string-centric score by Nigel Westlake and a nice cover of Crowded House’s 1980s hit “Don’t Dream It’s Over” are bonuses.


Rated: P.G., for some thematic elements, danger and brief mild language

Running time: 1 hour, 42 minutes

Game: Launches March 3rd in general release

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