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ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

Streamline

Executive produced by Ian Thorpe, this brooding, moving and astute Australian drama follows a 15-year-old swimming prodigy who isn't certain if he wants to keep competing.
By Sarah Ward
September 02, 2021
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By Sarah Ward
September 02, 2021
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UPDATE, September 16, 2021: Streamline opened in Brisbane cinemas on Thursday, September 2, and is also available to stream via Stan from Thursday, September 16.

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Chasing a dream can feel like swimming through cool water on a hot summer's day — gliding, splashing and laidback paddling all included — with each refreshing stroke propelling you closer towards your own personal finish line. That's when everything is going well, of course, and when whatever your heart and mind desires seems as if it's waiting at the end of the pool. Otherwise, when you're bogged down by everyday minutiae and nothing seems to inch forward, working towards a set goal can also resemble treading water. It can mirror repetitively doing laps, too, when your destination seems out of sight despite all the hard work you're putting in. And, if you're tired and fed up with all the effort needed to even keep afloat — and when your heart is no longer in it — it can feel like floundering and drowning. In Streamline, all of these sensations and emotions bubble up for 15-year-old Benjamin Lane (Levi Miller, A Wrinkle in Time), as he pursues a professional swimming career, a spot in a prestigious squad in Brisbane and, ideally, an Olympics berth and all the glory that goes with it. Indeed, one of the delights of this Australian movie, which boasts Ian Thorpe as one of its executive producers, is how evocatively it sprinkles these swashes of feelings across the screen.

Written and directed by feature first-timer Tyson Wade Johnston, Streamline is a sports drama as well as a small town-set family drama — and it's also a portrait of that time when you're expected to dive headfirst into adulthood, and into knowing what you want to do with the rest of your life, but you're also inescapably wracked with uncertainty and apprehension. Teenage awkwardness and angst aren't simple states to capture on-screen, although enough coming-of-age movies have been buoyed by both; however, Streamline opts to plunge deep into the existential stress that goes beyond feeling out of place with your peers or being annoyed at your parents. Its protagonist, who everyone just calls Boy, only really connects with his girlfriend and best friend Patti (Tasia Zalar, Mystery Road) at school. And, he's definitely mad at his mother and father. He resents his single mum Kim's (Laura Gordon, Undertow) efforts to keep him focused, which he sees as controlling rather than nurturing. He's doing tumble turns internally over his dad Rob (Jason Isaacs, Creation Stories), who's just been released from prison and has never been a positive influence in his life. Boy is also furious at his surrogate father figure, Coach Clarke (Robert Morgan, The Secrets She Keeps), for all the cajoling that coaches tend to give. But, mostly the swimming prodigy is unsure — about what he wants, what he's been told he wants and what to do next.

Streamline takes ample cues from sports flicks and the usual formula behind them, with big races, the pressure to succeed and the push to impress the right people to score the best opportunities driving much of the narrative alongside training and its tussles. But as this emotionally astute film explores the tension and trepidation swelling inside Boy — the kind that only worsens whenever his dad is mentioned, let alone turns up, and also ramps up as he spends time self-destructing with his hard-drinking, loutish older half-brothers Dave (Jake Ryan, Savage) and Nick (Sam Parsonson, Operation Buffalo) — it taps into themes that've been washing through Australian cinema with increasing frequency over the past decade or so. In movies such as Animal Kingdom, Snowtown, Buoyancy and 1%, young men struggle to carve their own paths, or even just to survive or avoid following in damaging footsteps, all in the lingering shadow of violence. Shades of late-90s great The Boys also filter through when Streamline's Boy is with his siblings, but this measured and moving picture is never merely the sum of its influences, even as it adds more flawed and fractured males to the nation's cinematic canon.

Navigating this sea of toxic masculinity, Miller manages to convey many traits that fit the mould — Boy can be arrogant, reckless, careless with other people's feelings, moody, unwilling to express what's simmering within and combative — and also show his character's pain, conflict, yearning and vulnerability. It's a stellar performance, as well as a difficult one; the best work of the young actor's career so far, it's also likely to keep the Pan, Better Watch Out and Jasper Jones star in weightier roles moving forward. There isn't a weak link among the cast, though, but the film's standout moments all come when Miller is in front of the lens. A particular sense of power emanates in his scenes with Isaacs, and therefore with the man that Boy has been devastatingly hurt by and yet still finds himself drawn to. The two actors both played the same person but at varying ages in the vastly dissimilar Red Dog: True Blue, but now they play different points on a spectrum that neither wants Boy to slide down.

Contrasting the rigours of seeking perfection with the toll it takes, Streamline submerges itself in its lead character's journey visually as well. This is a melancholy movie in tone and appearance, with hues of blue hovering in frame after frame. Those shades often emanate from the water, obviously, given that it has such a pivotal part in Boy's days and dramas — but when they continue to pop up elsewhere, they also exude the sorrow of a teen who realises he doesn't know how to either keep or to stop doing what he's doing. Cinematographer Michael Latham shot the aforementioned Buoyancy, too, and gave The Assistant, Island of the Hungry Ghosts, Strange Colours and Casting JonBenet their exacting, evocative and also piercing looks, with his efforts here continuing the trend. Indeed, watching Streamline feels like plummeting into a brooding well not only emotionally, thematically and narratively, but aesthetically. Sometimes chasing a dream is like that, too, as this excellent Aussie drama also recognises.

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