When Stirling (Socratis Otto) first meets Amy (Tabrett Bethell), he offers her money. She reacts with proper, low-key outrage. This young man with a briefcase has no business handing her a pocketful of coins. Neither should he be following her on the street, watching her pick through trash in a bin or steal a volume from a bookstore shelf. And yet, Stirling feels unable to help himself. He’s moved by this girl, looking lonely and lovely, and so he keeps on.
That’s the essential storyline in Anyone You Want, screening this weekend at the Cinequest Film Festival in Silicon Valley. Unsurprisingly, Stirling’s pursuit is only nominally about Amy. (In fact, it’s not entirely clear this is her name, though it’s the first one she gives him.) He is instead seeking his own story, having to do with his father, Glenn (Max Cullen) — whose status Stirling learns by occasional phone calls from the nursing home where he’s living — and his mother, dead and much missed. Stirling gets through his current days alone, wandering downtown Sydney streets with an old briefcase (handed down from his father, he says) and barely noticing the brilliant blue sky above him.
What he does notice, he says, is Amy. Trying to speak with her, he tells her what he’s seen. “Stealing’s wrong,” he admonishes. She looks back at him. “Not if they don’t notice,” she says. She has insights he lacks, she’s infinitely better at performing herself. He determines to learn from her, and so he persists. When he asks what she does, she asks how he means. “For a living,” you know, like most people mean it. She rolls her eyes and keeps walking: “I exist, I guess.” When he asks where he might look for her again, she walks on again. “In all the right places, of course.”
To Stirling, bereft of experience, Amy is enchanting, even a little mesmerizing, His distraction looks obsessive. He promises to visit his father, and doesn’t. Instead, he skulks on the sidewalks, hides behind hedges and street signs, observing her laughing with another young man, whom she calls Igor (Costa Ronin). As she inevitably agrees to spend time with Stirling, he sees in her the freethinking and energetic spirit he aspires to. This much is clear when as the most imaginative role he can come up with is to say he’s a futures trader, to go with the briefcase: Amy is unimpressed.
With an eye toward changing his options Stirling follows Amy’s lead: she has him playing a grunty caveman, a dogged knight, a blissfully high headbanded hippie, all alongside her feminine counterpart (cavegirl, princess, another blissfully high headbanded hippie). You know that their performances are giddy and sweet and inspiring because they appear in montages accompanied by guitar-based pop songs. Such perception appears to be Stirling’s, as he believes that the montages mean what they usually mean in movies: he and his girl are headed toward a happy ending, and along the way they will have sex. His initial seductive efforts are less than effective, but its not long before she’s accommodating him — at least as he sees it. “Sometimes you just want a meaningless fuck, don’t you?” she asks, and he nods yes. But maybe that’s not what he wants at all. Maybe he wants one that’s very meaningful indeed.
All this ordinariness suggests one of two things: Stirling is an exceedingly regular boy in a heterosexual romance, or, more intriguingly, the movie is catechizing exactly this premise. After more than one fight and reunion, Stirling convinces Amy to come along with him on a visit to his father, apparently dying at the nursing home. Glenn approves of Amy (who calls herself Jacinta here), wonders whether Stirling means to “make an honest woman of her.” Stirling has no answer, dishonesty and honesty being increasingly interchangeable, and so he ponders himself while his father pukes in the toilet. “Your mother quite liked you, didn’t she, more than him?” Amy solicits. “It’s Freudian shit, isn’t it? You’re still working through some primal drama together, some desperate battle for the loving space.”
Could be. By this point, though, Stirling’s self-centeredness is wearing thin. Or, as his father puts it, when Stirling complains his father never showed “interest” in him, it would have been easier if he’d “do interesting things.” As Stirling heads toward some resolution, of his family structure, his identity, his relationship, that loving space looks farther and farther away.