Directed by: Gabriel Carrubba
Written by: Gabriel Carrubba
Starring: Liam Mollica, Luke J. Morgan, Olivia Fildes, Daniel Halmarick, Elias Anton, Diana Ferreira
Released: July 4, 2024
Grade: B+


Sunflower had its world premiere over a year ago at the Sydney Film Festival and when asked why he made the film, Australian writer-director Gabriel Carrubba said it would all be worthwhile if it stopped just one gay kid from taking their own life.  He can relate to the pressures growing up as a closeted teenager and wanted to play a small part in making sure today’s youth don’t feel as uncomfortable in their own skin.

Made on a miniscule budget, Sunflower is centred on Leo (Mollica), a 17-year-old from Melbourne who lives with his chatty parents and good-natured brother.  In helping illustrate the family dynamic, there’s a wonderful early scene where they sit around the dinner table and humorously debate the difference between a “gathering” and a “small party”.  Leo’s best friend is Boof (Morgan) and the pair regularly hang out together.

It’s clear from the outset that Leo is wrestling with himself internally.  Despite his good looks and friendly nature, there’s an air of shyness and discomfort which others struggle to detect.  A female classmate (Fildes) tries to seduce Leo at a student shindig and what follows is an awkward sexual encounter which leaves both of them feeling embarrassed.  It leaves Leo in a difficult spot as it helps clarify his attraction to men… but he has no one to confide in.

This subject has been explored in countless dramas and given the Melbourne setting, it’s hard not to compare it with the excellent Of an Age, my favourite Aussie film of 2023.  I’ll acknowledge there’s nothing revolutionary about the themes and material, but Sunflower still packs an emotional punch on the back of the performances and direction.  Garrubba maintains a quick, interesting pace (the film is just 84 minutes) and star Liam Mollica (Nowhere Boys) has a likeable screen presence.

In also crafting the script, Garrubba uses dialogue sparingly and creates a workable blend of tones.  Some sequences are tough and confronting while others are sweet and uplifting.  As difficult as life can be, it’s nice to be reminded there’s often light at the end of the tunnel.  The developing relationship between Leo and his two parents is another subplot handled with delicacy.  It’s easy to put yourself in their shoes of their characters’ and understand their confusion.

Fresh off its run at film festivals around the country, Sunflower is now receiving a small release in Australian cinemas and hopefully it connects with its target audience.