Directed by: Richard Gray
Written by:Richard Gray
Starring: Rachael Taylor, Alex Dimitriades, Nathan Phillips, Angus Sampson, Jacki Weaver, Kate Bell
Released: October 21, 2010
Grade: B+

In 2001, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck helped produce a reality television show in the United States called Project Greenlight.  It was a contest to find the best screenplay and then turn it into a movie.  More than 7,000 scripts were submitted.  It’s sure proof of just how many people are looking to break into the industry.

The show came to Australia in 2005 with similar intentions.  The judges sifted through more than 1,200 entries and it came down to a choice between two.  Who would take the $1,000,000 prize?  Unfortunately for Richard Gray, it was not his time.  His screenplay for Summer Coda finished as the unlucky runner-up.  It was Solo (written by Morgan O’Neill) that won the cash.

Ah, but hindsight is a wonderful thing.  Over the past few years, Gray has worked hard to get this film off the ground.  Government funding wasn’t forthcoming and so he went in search of private investors.  The pieces of the puzzle finally came together.  He had a more refined script.  He had a better cast.  He had the latest technology.  Most importantly, he had the money.

Summer Coda begins as a road movie.  Heidi (Rachael Taylor) has returned to Australia from the United States following the death of her estranged father.  She’s not sure if she wants to attend the funeral but she’s made the trip anyway.  It’s a chance to close this chapter of her life.

With next-to-no cash, Heidi hitches a ride to her father’s country home.  The guy who picks her up is Michael (Dimitriades), the owner of an orange orchard in Mildura.  Very little conversation is shared between the two.  You get the sense that both have a lot on their mind.  They’re keeping their cards close to their chest.

Things open up in the second half of the film however.  Following the funeral, Heidi spends a few days with Michael on his orchard.  The picking season has just begun and the place has been brought to life by a small team of back-packers looking to make some money.  They work hard during the day and then spend the night drinking and socialising.

It took me a little while to warm to the story but once I got to know these two characters, I really enjoyed this film.  It seems that Heidi has fallen in love with Michael and his relaxing lifestyle but how long can it last?  Heidi knows she must return to the U.S. in a few days.  Will this be a similar summer romance?  Or is it something a lot deeper?

What struck me most about Summer Coda were its visuals.  I’ve never harnessed a desire to visit Mildura but that’s changed thanks to the beautiful cinematography of Greg De Marigny.  It’s hard to believe that it wasn’t shot using traditional 35mm film.  Instead, Richard Gray has used the latest in digital technology to create a film which looks very impressive on the big screen.

A few characters seem unnecessary (such as Jackie Weaver) and I wasn’t convinced by the ending but on the whole, Summer Coda is a nice Aussie drama.