DANIELLE CANTANZARITI

In our quest to keep up with the career of Keisha Castle-Hughes, we came across a 2008 Australian film, “Hey Hey It’s Esther Blueburger.”

This is a rather blunt story — written and directed by Cathy Randall — about a 13-year-old girl, the title character, who attends a private school, where the snobbish and often brutal cliques ridicule and shun her, while she also navigates a home life made difficult by a rigid mother (Essie Davis) and thoughtless father (Russell Dykstra). Esther falls in with Sunni — Castle-Hughes — an older and more worldly wise student at a public school. The relationship introduces Esther to a gritty world she has been unaware of, and it teaches her a hard lesson about the hazards of trying to fit in by distorting one’s own identity.

DANIELLE CANTANZARITI

Esther is played by Danielle Cantanzariti, who got the part when she turned up for a cattle call audition for extras. The film-makers had screened about 3,000 candidates over a period of four months. The girl is excellent in the role. The character is quirky and smart, and Cantanzariti really goes to town on that. The story has both drama and humor, and this child is skilled at both. Some of the exchanges between her and her brother Jacob (Christian Byers) — who has his own share of complexes — are  hilarious.

Castle-Hughes gives a smooth performance as Sunni, whose self-assured demeanor masks the tension in her life with an amiable but unfocused single mother, Mary– nicely played by Toni Collette. The delicate balance in Sunni’s own life is revealed when she loses control in her attempt to re-make Esther, and the younger girl goes too far in order to preserve her standing with her peers. Castle-Hughes played an 12-year-old Maori girl in “Whale Rider” and Mary, the mother of Jesus, in “The Nativity Story.”

The film has a soundtrack that is well tuned to Randall’s themes, including music related to the Blueberger family’s Jewish faith, which figures prominently in the story in a couple of ways.

“Hey Hey It’s Esther Blueburger” cost a lot to make and didn’t return much for the investors. It deserved better.

KEISHA CASTLE-HUGHES and TONI COLLETTE