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By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
November 20, 1992


John Duigan
Noah Taylor;
Thankie Newton;
Nicole Kidman
Not rated

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Normally, the phrase "charming movie" has me reaching for my broad sword. But John Duigan's 1989 "Flirting" meets that description with non-icky aplomb.

Set in a boarding school in rural Australia in 1965, it's about the romantic alliance between gangly outcast Noah Taylor and Ugandan boarder Thandie Newton. Braving resistance from staff and fellow students, their affair is one of the funniest, affecting institutional-life stories to bolt out of the gates for a long time.

"Flirting" is the sequel to "The Year My Voice Broke," which whispered through Washington in 1988. A wry, coming-of-age drama, "Voice" is about Taylor's unrequited longing for the sultry heartthrob he's grown up with in Southwest Australia.

In "Flirting," set three years later, Taylor finds himself in uniform and out of friends. In this quasi-fascistic, conformist atmosphere, Taylor narrates, you either ran with the herd or "dug a cave deep inside your head, peering through your eye sockets."

Teased for his stuttering, Taylor opts for the latter. But he deserts all introspective protection when he meets Newton. Temporarily situated at the neighboring girl's school while her diplomat father works in Canberra, Newton is already getting her share of abuse from her racist colleagues. These two were obviously made for each other.

As the two arrange nighttime meetings -- Taylor rowing across the small lake between their respective buildings -- they have to contend with an amusing collection of quirkos.

On Newton's side of the water, there's stern Scottish mistress Maggie Blinco (as the wonderfully named Miss Guinevere Macready) and snooty head-girl Nicole Kidman (looking decidedly coltish in those pre-Tom Cruise days). At his end, Taylor has to deal with sarcastic pupils, as well as psychotic, cane-happy house master Jeff Truman.

The movie is full of wonderful scenes: Newton caught hiding in a boys' toilet stall as the unsuspecting lads come in to shower, a line of uniformed boys ritualistically facing a row of ballroom-gowned girls at a school dance, and so on.

"Flirting" is also full of amusing rejoinders and comments: "Remember her needs as well as yours," suggests Taylor's friend with secondhand Kamasutra wisdom when Taylor heads toward an intended sensual tryst. "If you can give her pleasure, she'll be back for more."

If Duigan maintains the dark yet humanistic humor that has graced both films, we should all be back for more.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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