Advertisement

KILLINGS, daily columns and blog —

Column: Film and TV

Not so ‘quiche’: Chris Lilley’s Ja’mie: Private School Girl

by Anthony Morris , December 10, 20135 Comments

Private School Girl

If we’ve learnt anything from Chris Lilley’s latest series Ja’mie: Private School Girl, it’s that no one in their right mind wants to see Ja’mie topless. Once you look past Ja’mie’s bizarre and frankly creepy on-stage disrobing at the climax of the series (if you even can because Chris Lilley’s head on a teenage girl’s body really was the stuff of nightmares), everything else going on in this series was old news. What, Ja’mie is a racist, self-obsessed horror who insults and manipulates everyone around her in a painfully transparent fashion? Lilley established that back in 2005 with Ja’mie’s appearance in the six-part We Can Be Heroes. And then he did it again in 2008 with her appearance in the eight-part Summer Heights High. Taking another six episodes to revisit this well-worn ground seemed a touch self-indulgent, but when has Lilley ever been anything but?

Lilley makes television where he plays all the main roles then squeezes out the supporting characters until they barely register. The first episode of Ja’mie promised subplots involving Ja’mie’s enemies at school, her relationship with her little sister and her parents’ obviously troubled marriage. By the end of the series all three had been lucky to get a handful of scenes across the entire six episodes; what little screen time they grabbed usually involved standing around while Ja’mie shouted or swore at them. Then again, Lilley prefers to deal with non-professional actors. ‘I prefer just bossing real people around,’ he says, which only reinforces the feeling that Ja’mie is the only ‘real’ character on the series.

Ja’mie’s group of friends were an undifferentiated mass of teen mean girls, a Greek chorus cheering her on. Who could pick that one girl who betrayed Ja’mie out of a line up? The only kind of scenes her parents and teachers were allowed to have were ones where they lectured Ja’mie while she rolled her eyes or swore at them. As for her relationships, one was with a boy whose longest on camera sequence was a montage of moments with Ja’mie right before they broke up and the other was with an African refugee who barely spoke English, whom she treated like a slave.

Ja’mie is a frighteningly self-obsessed character created by someone who seems to share some of her self-obsession. Lilley (who as star, writer, producer and co-director, amongst other credits, is basically a one-man band off-screen as well as on) keeps the focus on her (that is to say, himself) so firmly that even elements you’d expect to be central to a comedy – such as the comedy – often felt like an afterthought. Every show Lilley has done has featured the same elements: total self-obsession (check); dubious comedy songs (check); terrible stage performances (check); racism played for laughs (check). Large chunks of this series might as well have featured Ricky Wong. Or Mr G. Or S.mouse.

For a show that was often lauded for its documentary-like insight into teenage girls (Lilley himself describes it as such, saying, ‘To me, it’s really funny that my character is in a real environment and you think it’s a real documentary’), large stretches of the series seemed surprisingly unrealistic. Seriously, in the final episode she makes an on-stage rant about how the school has ripped her off and the principal comes on stage to stop her from talking…and then he promptly gives her back the mic so she can sing a school song.

Ja’mie never went to class. She wasn’t interested in clothes or trends or hobbies. In fact, for someone so self-obsessed she had no internal life at all. In an earlier look at Lilley’s Angry Boys I suggested that Lilley has become less subtle with each series:

In Lilley’s first solo effort We Can Be Heroes, Phil Olivetti was able to be both funny and pathetic at the same time. In contrast, the current crop are all two-stage characters from the same mould, comedy monsters who are revealed to have hearts of gold.

With Ja’mie, Lilley didn’t even bother with the heart of gold.

Chris Lilley’s career isn’t finished yet – there has already been a handful of promos for his next series early in 2014 – but how much longer can he go on playing characters half his age? With his next series based around Summer Heights High’s wayward student Jonah, he’ll once again be a man in his forties playing a teenager. Creatively he’s been repeating himself since day one, so it seems plausible to suggest that he’s been able to get away with it in large part by drawing in a new audience of teenagers each time. We Can Be Heroes aired in 2005; his current crop of teenage fans would have been in early primary school when Ja’mie first appeared. If Lilley’s going to keep those viewers coming back as he moves into his fifth decade, he’s going to have to come up with characters who change and grow up.

Anthony Morris is a Killings columnist and has been reviewing films for almost 20 years for a variety of publications, many of which have closed down through no fault of his own. Though his insistence on reviewing every single Adam Sandler movie may have played a part. 

His essay ‘A Bad Habit: Chris Lilley and How We Rate Comedy’ appears in Issue Three of Kill Your Darlings

ACO logo




5 thoughts on “Not so ‘quiche’: Chris Lilley’s Ja’mie: Private School Girl

  1. If nothing else, Lilley is an Anthropologist. He has in particular studied the habits (or if you like, the antics) of high school young women and translated them into the characteristics and especially speech patterns you see on this show. I know he’s nailed this, not even because I watch it (I don’t) but because my daughters say it is like watching their own schoolyard.

  2. I agree that the comedy in this series felt like an afterthought. It worried me that the sort of girls he was typecasting and their behaviour would condone it. The bullying, racism and body image themes did not sit well. Great article, though!

  3. Great article. Agree that the potential of storylines in the first episode wasn’t picked up, and could have been.

    I think people watching Chris Lilley’s work simply ‘for the laughs’ aren’t watching it for the right reason or comprehensively. I don’t think it’s about humour necessarily which might be why it seems as an afterthought for some. I think it’s more about holding up a mirror so the viewer sees something that makes them very uncomfortable. More about social comment. And no heart of gold for Ja’mie because, she has no self-awareness, no sense of remorse, no heart. If she’d redeemed in that last episode that would have be even more wrong.

    • Yep, what you just said!

      I think Chris Lilley is really talented but I agree the whole thing is feeling somewhat jaded now. I was surprised at how long it’s been since WCBH first came out. I wonder if Chris is feeling stifled by expectation? I would like to see him head in a different direction, keeping that element of social commentary.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

308982705_be9f94455b_b

Marika Sosnowski

Back inside: Life on the Syrian-Turkish border

In Turkey, less than 50 kilometres from the border, Syrians have chosen their favourite cafes, have opened Aleppine sweet shops and set up stores in the old city. Read more »

Frances Abbott

David Donaldson

Why #whitehousegate matters

A few days after the release of the budget, in which the Coalition government announced it was spreading the burden by increasing university fees, cutting school funding, and cutting welfare for young people comes a story that confirms what many already suspect to be the nature of opportunity: it’s much easier to come by if you’re born into privilege. Read more »

money

David Donaldson

When does lobbying become corruption?

Whether it’s Clive Palmer buying his way into parliament, the recent, varied ICAC revelations of dodgy fundraising in the NSW Liberal party, or the refusal or inability of successive governments to effectively tackle powerful corporate interests in industries like gambling, mining, media, and junk food, there is a feeling among many Australians that democracy is up for sale. Read more »

6277209256_934f20da10_z

Veronica Sullivan

What cannot be counted: reflections on the 2013 Stella Count

Today, the Stella Prize released the results of the 2013 Stella Count, which calculates the gender breakdown of authors reviewed in Australian newspapers. This year, as in previous years, the Count shows that Australian literary pages review female writers significantly less than they do male writers. But there are other insidious patterns … Read more »

5562248-3x4-700x933

Carody Culver

Man out of time: Nick Earls and his analogue people

Some readers persist in the belief that the sort of light-hearted, character-driven comedy produced by authors like Nick Earls is intrinsically less worthy than serious literary fiction, but it’s as much a challenge to make your audience laugh as it is to make them gasp at the elegance of your syntax or the gravitas of your ideas. Read more »

6362f-cindersprince

Chris White

A Burning Desire: The culture of censorship

Plenty of titles on the banned books list are there for good reason – they are dangerous. However, it’s a slippery slope between books that promote dangerous activities, and books that promote supposedly dangerous ideas. Read more »

Clara and Doctor

Julia Tulloh

Doctor Who’s gender dynamics: a mid-season evaluation

In some ways, Peter Capaldi was a problematic choice for the newest regeneration of Doctor Who. How on earth were the producers going to pull off a successful friendship between a middle-aged man and a twenty-something woman, without it seeming at best patriarchal and at worst creepy? Read more »

blue-ombr-speckle-liner

Julia Tulloh

From the outside in: the beauty vlogger phenomenon

A current cohort of beauty bloggers are helping to break down distinctions between internal and external expressions of self in ways that allow them to generate new ideas of beauty on their own terms, rather than according to society’s expectations of what women (or men) should look like. Read more »

The Tunnel TV review

Julia Tulloh

The Tunnel vs The Bridge: The ethics of TV remakes

A body is found in the Eurotunnel, neatly laid across the border between France and England. When police attempt to move the body, it splits in two with the top half in France and lower half in England. Read more »

stepup5poster

Anthony Morris

Let’s Dance: unapologetic repetition and Step Up: All In

A franchise of movies based entirely around good-looking people performing unlikely and oddly aggressive dance moves wouldn’t seem to require heavy continuity – or any continuity at all – but Step Up: All In is surprisingly effective. Read more »

lead_large

Rochelle Siemienowicz

On Boyhood, parenting and the passing of time

Since its premiere in January at the Sundance Film Festival, film critics have been falling over themselves to lavish love upon Richard Linklater’s Boyhood. Read more »

wetlands_poster

Rochelle Siemienowicz

Lucky Dip Diving: an approach to film festivals

I wanted to let go of the grasping desire to watch everything and be part of every conversation. But with the Melbourne International Film Festival in full swing, anxieties arise again. Read more »

Streisand_Estate

Connor Tomas O'Brien

Don’t Look: The emergence of Streisand criticism

In the wake of the recent nude celebrity photo leak, I noticed something strange about the ways different publications skewed their coverage. Tabloid-style publications tended to be honest about their motives. The behaviour of left-leaning broadsheet-style outlets, however, was more complex. Read more »

owl1

Connor Tomas O'Brien

Speaking with pixels

On the Facebook Newsfeed, it’s now possible to click a tiny smiley face inside almost any textbox to bring up a series of thumbnail images: an alligator bawling into a tissue, say, or a whistling fox dropping a turd, or a green owl vomiting rainbows. Read more »

hbo-silicon-valley

Connor Tomas O'Brien

Silicon Valley will eat itself

At a certain point in the lifespan of any subculture, fiction and reality start to blur. Members of the subculture begin to model their character and appearance on the idealised representations of themselves they read about or see on screen. Read more »

Inky Awards

Danielle Binks

By teens, for teens: the Inky Awards

The Centre for Youth Literature’s Inky Awards are amongst the most important book awards in Australian literature. Read more »

9780987507013

Review: The Boy’s Own Manual to Being a Proper Jew

This is a coming out story but one that desperately needed to be told on two counts – one because it’s an Australian YA coming-out story, and two because it’s a coming-out story about a young man questioning his homosexuality alongside his Jewish faith. Read more »

Untitled

Danielle Binks

How to buy books for young adults

‘Excuse me, where are the boys’ books? I’m looking to buy for a 16-year-old.’ When I overheard this question while browsing in a bookshop recently, I felt insta-rage. Read more »

free-u2-album-on-itunes

Chad Parkhill

The Perpetual Undeath of Rock

 ‘Hey hey, my my, rock and roll can never die.’ Depending on your own tastes and cognitive biases, Neil Young’s famous lyric will now seem more prophetic than ever before – or profoundly misguided. Last week saw the release of U2’s Songs of Innocence in what Apple … Read more »

arthur-russel-beckman

Chad Parkhill

Calling out of context: The perennial appeal of Arthur Russell

When Arthur Russell died in 1992 at the age of forty, he did so in relative obscurity, having released four commercially unsuccessful albums and granted a single print interview: not exactly a promising oeuvre on which to build a legacy. Read more »

Jabberwocky1

Chad Parkhill

The carnival is over

Jabberwocky, scheduled to take place last weekend, was the kind of festival that wasn’t supposed to fail. Read more »

please-like-me

Stephanie Van Schilt

Mental illness and Josh Thomas’ Please Like Me

While the jury is still out on the success of Please Like Me’s efforts to address ideas around mental health, the discussions both its seasons have provoked and continue to encourage are incredibly important. That, I definitely like. Read more »

DP

Stephanie Van Schilt

Idle hands and Devil’s Playground: Going to the movies to watch TV

I recently went to the movies to watch TV. I bid a reluctant farewell to the comforts of my couch and heater and ventured into the frosty evening in search of Devil’s Playground. Read more »

2014-07-03-theleftovers

Stephanie Van Schilt

TV pilots: The good, the bad and The Leftovers

With the wealth of shows on offer, committing to a new TV series can feel like a big deal. It’s often during a pilot episode that audiences determine whether the program is appealing enough to stick with for the long haul. Read more »