Antarctica is a Booksmart-style comedy about a couple of high school girls, friends who don’t fit in, cocky and standoffish as a defence against the scorn they get from fellow schoolmates. They are not cool.
They have fairly OK home lives which they think are horrible, a perfectly decent school life which they also think is horrible, and most of their woes are entirely self-generated. People refer to them as dykes, which they’re not
They sound like an awful pair of entitled bitches and in real life they probably would be, but in the hands of actors Chloë Levine and newcomer Kimie Muroya they’re charm personified – it really helps that Levine and Muroya have a hand-in-glove chemistry. The actors mesh as well as the characters.
Writer/director Keith Bearden gets us on side with them by putting the girls to the sword – Kat (Levine), sick of being shunned, and slightly charmed by peevish motormouth Stevie D (Steve Lipman), lets him have sex with her in the back of a car.
Stevie D, being a dick, spreads details of his conquest across that generic social media platform that movies use and soon everyone at school is treating Kat like a slut, which provokes Janet (Muroya) into violence against Stevie D.
This being the sort of weird school where classes are being taught on the greatest US president of all time (Ronald Reagan) and the country’s biggest traitor (Bill Clinton), the girls both end up under heavy manners. Kat is sent to a sex rehab clinic mostly catering to horny old dudes (motto: Open Heart, Closed Zipper), while Janet is put on a lady tranquiliser called Femtrexl, which causes her to hallucinate that she’s being visited by an astronaut.
Neither of these things seem plausible, but then the high school comedy rarely seems entirely plausible, with attitudes to sex which seem, to anyone who grew up on this side of the Atlantic, to still be stuck in the 1950s.
Playing both to and against these genre expectations, Antarctica is a State of the Fucked-Up Nation comedy with the humour almost entirely of the TMI sort. For instance Kat’s mother (Chlea Lewis) admits at one point, in an attempt to promote a closer emotional bond with her daughter, that she didn’t really catch herpes from a yoga mat.
Most of the jokes land, some do not. In general, films about teenage ennui can get a bit wearisome – every character a Holden Caulfield, none of the writers a Diablo Cody – but Antarctica dodges that bullet through the sheer likeability of the young women, the actors’ gift for comic delivery (Muroya in particular) and by Bearden’s decision to include an oasis of cuteness in the shape of a local retirement home where there’s a weekly dance.
Cynical feelgood – it’s a sub-genre all of its own.
© Steve Morrissey 2020