Two Friends | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Technically, this low-budget 16-millimeter television film (1986) qualifies as Jane Campion's first feature. The script is by Australian novelist Helen Garner, one of whose books was the source for Monkey Grip, a film in the Australian retrospective at the Film Center. (She also worked with Gillian Armstrong on The Last Days of Chez Nous.) The mise en scene, though clearly Campion-esque in certain stretches of oddball inventiveness, is still some distance from the splendors of Sweetie, An Angel at My Table, and The Piano. Like Kaufman and Hart's play Merrily We Roll Along and Pinter's Betrayal, the story proceeds in reverse chronology, starting with the death of a teenage dropout (Kris Bidenko) from a drug overdose and then working through the previous year, with particular emphasis on her friendship with a classmate (Emma Coles). (Part of the point is how similar these friends were when they started school together.) Campion's work with actors yields plenty of rewards here, and the structure is certainly interesting, though one also feels at times that Campion and Garner have bitten off a little more than they can chew. Music Box, Friday through Thursday, May 10 through 16. --Jonathan Rosenbaum

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