Dir: Geoff Bennett. Aus.2004. 102mins.

Australiansinger, soap star and media darling Delta Goodrem makes her feature debut in HatingAlison Ashley, an uneven teens-at-school feature in which she looks like anundernourished member of staff rather than one of the gang.

Thebuild-up buzz to the 250-screen Hoyts rollout in Australia on March 17 has beenloud; Revlon, Swatch and Pepsi are among the promotional partners and there'seven an Alison Ashley brand of clothes, bags and shoes. Openingprospects are good wherever Goodrem's profile is high, especially in the UK andNew Zealand and increasingly in Canada. Elsewhere the going will be tougher,for despite its cheeriness the film is overlong and uneven in tone.

Heroine Erica Yurken (knownto all as Yuk and played by Burmeister) is a mid-teens pupil at "disadvantaged'Barringa East Primary School. The film follows her as she rationalises herartistic streak in a class full of rowdy kids and deals with the arrival ofbeautiful, rich girl Alison (Goodrem), who seems to have everything Yuk lacks.

Going for the widestpossible audience, producers Elizabeth Howatt-Jackman and John Brousek havesignificantly aged the 12-year-old characters in the source children's novel,published in 1984, adapted for the stage in 1988 and still widely read.

But Mean Girlsattitudes, interests and language sit uncomfortably with the book's more basicproblems of family embarrassment and self-worth ("It can be lonely when you're exceptional," Yuk atone point laments to her diary). And,confusingly, Yuk's classmates seem to be all sorts of ages.

Director Geoff Bennettjuggles various comedy styles, including slapstick humour, surreal fantasies, acartoonish presentation of Yuk's rules-free home and the witty-wise words ofteacher Miss Belmont (Kittson). It results in a bumpy, if energetic, ride thatwould benefit greatly from a 10-minute trim.

Rather, the film works bestwhen Bennett focuses on Yuk's real discomforts, and the funny-sad relationshipbetween herself and her mum's dogged boyfriend (Carter) lends proceedingsmuch-needed warmth and genuine feeling.

Saskia Burmeister shines inthe lead as the dark-eyed proto-artist hypochondriac, learning about life'shard knocks at school and at home. Delta Goodrem looks gorgeous of course - ifwillowy to the point of thin - but is ultimately a bloodless presence whodrifts through the story.

Prod cos: HAA Films, FilmFinance Corporation, Australia, The Movie Network, Film Victoria, TheAustralian Children's Television Foundation, NSW Film and Television Office
Int'l sales
: Arclight Films (exceptUK: UniversalPics)
Aust/NZ dist
: Hoyts Dist
Exec prod
:John Brousek
Prods: Elizabeth Howatt-Jackman, John Brousek
Scr: Christine Madafferi, Chris Anastassiades, from the novel by Robin Klein
Cine: Steve Newman
Proddes:Ralph Moser
Main cast: Saskia Burmeister, Delta Goodrem, JeanKittson,Richard Carter, Tracey Mann, AlexanderCappelli, Craig McLachlan