A sensible, creative and overachieving 17-year-old girl in a respectable, middle-class family seems to be having the perfect ride… until her sanity spectacularly unravels.
High Life is a comic drama about an unexpected teenage crisis; a bomb-blast in a safe, middle-class and discreetly dysfunctional family who are completely unprepared for their daughter’s emotional collapse. However, this is much worse than regular teenage behaviour…
What Genevieve Barrett (Odessa Young) is yet to discover is that she’s suffering her first manic episode of Bipolar disorder. And for a sensitive and studious girl, her experience will be exhilarating before it becomes terrifying. It also happens at the worst possible time — while she’s getting ready for her year twelve exams and hoping to get into the Sydney Conservatory of Music. To make matters worse, no one is paying attention to her… except her sweetly awkward friend, Ben (Benson Jack Anthony) – a trombonist in her jazz ensemble – whom Gen thinks of as an asexual friend. But Ben clearly adores her.
Her so-called BFF, Holly (Madeleine Madden), is struggling with her own issues after her boyfriend dumps her, and she’s now trying to win him back by sleeping with two of his friends… while also distancing herself from boring-Gen. After Gen uncharacteristically tells Holly exactly what she thinks of her, Holly – in retaliation – convinces Gen that the geeky-cute history teacher that she admires, Paul Webster (Brendan Donoghue), went down on Holly in his car… which shatters Gen’s innocence while making her question everything she thought she knew, all while her mania intensifies.
Meanwhile, Gen’s mother, Liz (Olivia Pigeot), is completely consumed by her new art gallery’s opening, fusing white and indigenous artists in the one space (believing that she’s singlehandedly reconciling the country, which Gen secretly thinks is narcissistic and exploitative), while Gen’s gentle, optimistic and oblivious dad, Andrew (Paul Gleeson), may or may not be having an affair with his cheerful receptionist. Then there’s Gen’s higher maintenance younger sister, Isabella (Milly Alcock), 15, who’s fiercely competitive with Gen, despite there being no competition at all — because Izzy is nowhere near as academically and musically gifted and feels overwhelmed by her sister’s large shadow.
And there’s one more person in Gen’s sphere; someone she doesn’t know at all — “Lennon” (Luke Pegler), the gardener who’s working in Ben’s back yard… and whom she flashes during her manic period of hyper-sexuality. Having been rejected by Paul (after Gen tried to seduce him), she’ll flirt with Lennon instead, and – having lost her rational mind – will suggest they leave civilization behind. As Lennon drives her into the bush, she’ll have no idea how much trouble she’s in… with only Ben to save her.
But no one thinks to worry about Gen, because she’s the “good kid”; the sensible, moral, innocent and easily ignored friend, sister and daughter… until now.