Written and directed by Julianna Notten, as middle school comes to an end, Erin, the only out person in her grade, and Liz, fellow comic nerd and track star, find their friendship tested when Liz is accepted to private high school and Erin falls hard for new girl and ex child-star, Sydni. Starring: Elliot Stocking, Jesyca Gu, Rosali Annikie, Dabria Peta-Dragos, Alissa Gokhstein, Alyssa Marie Nanos, Nathaniel Keith, Gabriel Tesa and Meryn Jackson.
There are some things about the teenage experience that will never change, some kids will be mean, some will be more popular and some you’ll have a relentless crush on. Erin’s Guide to Kissing Girls brings us into the modern day without forgetting those things, not trying to create tech obsessed teens but giving us a realistic world of more socially aware but still angry, messy and petty kids. All the while framing it around a queer central character who is neither in the closet nor afraid to be out of it. It has all the cheesiness, emotion and anxiety that you’d expect but also a genuinely charming and endearing story that you might not. It captures the teen girl experience, one that is relatable to any woman, it’s about first loves, insecurity and how we can subconsciously push people away when we sense difficulty or hurt in the future.
Julianna Notten’s directorial style captures all the bubbly, sweet charm of Erin (Elliot Stocking) right from the start. It’s colourful and energetic but never leans too far into it to become sickly or over the top. It holds its feet on the ground even if they’re wearing neon shoes, embracing Erin’s personality, imagination and creativity without adding unrealistic expectation or melodrama. It’s paced extremely well and you may easily find yourself drawn into this and it flying by. One of its key elements without doubt is that its style is much more widely accessible than restricting itself with a teen audience. As well as that while a big part of Erin’s story may be her infatuation with Sydni (Rosali Annikie), it’s always her friendship with Liz (Jesyca Gu) and her own sense of self which drive the film. A factor which many films have gotten wrong over the years.
Being one of the only out queer kids in a middle school class and embracing it is always going to be a turbulent journey. Everyone at that age is awkward, clumsy and can’t quite get the hang of the perfect social interaction or comeback, enter Elliot Stocking who perfectly sums all of that up as Erin. She’s wonderfully nerdy, enthusiastic, romantic and maybe let’s her imagination get away from her, but ultimately what Stocking brings to this performance is an authentic feel and a huge charisma. Making Erin fun, cheesy, insecure but with a touch of confidence, relatable and also having a superb chemistry with Jesyca Gu as her best friend Liz. Gu provides the other side of this coin, she has a steadiness, wit and self-awareness that balances out so well with Erin. However, she also still captures all of those typical teenage emotions and fragility. Rosali Annikie then rounds out the trio with the more unusual teenage character, one solidly comfortable in her own skin, quick with a comeback, emotionally mature, highly accepting and aware of other’s feelings.
Erin’s Guide to Kissing Girls is the teenage romcom that queer women will wish they had growing up. Creating more queer, open content for the younger generation is a logical next step to wider acceptance, so it’s always a refreshing thing to see, especially when it’s done as well as Julianna Notten has achieved here. It’s incredibly sweet and charming, the story is captivating and fun, the performances from the leading trio are all fantastic and it’s hugely relatable and authentic.