Heidi is a troubled teenage girl on the run from a bad situation at home. Joe is an emotionally stunted 20-something on the run from his feelings. When these two unbalanced individuals meet, the outcome doesnâ€™t appear to be promising, but it does make for compelling viewing.
Heidi longs for love and acceptance, and sheâ€™s willing to look in all the wrong places to find it. As the movie opens, she makes a successful pass at her motherâ€™s boyfriend, much to the dismay of mom when she walks in on them. Rather than try to work things out at home, she immediately runs away and ends up in a small, remote Australian ski resort called Jindabyne. She doesnâ€™t really know anyone there, but in her immature mind she hopes to find immediate employment from a businessman who gave her his card once upon a time (most likely hoping to score).
Of course the businessman claims complete ignorance when she calls, especially when his wife answers the call at first, so sheâ€™s left in the middle of nowhere with no money or shelter. Whatâ€™s a pretty and confused girl to do in such a situation? Hit the local bar and shack up with the first guy who notices her. He quickly ditches her the following morning, so sheâ€™s back on her own, but through a series of lucky breaks she eventually finds employment at the local mini-market, accommodation at a hotel with a very kindly proprietor, and companionship with local boy Joe.
The town of Jindabyne isnâ€™t exactly the Outback, but it is practically the middle of nowhere with no discernible reason for existence other than its scenic lake and gateway location to the neighboring Thredbo ski resort and surrounding Kosciusko National Park. Itâ€™s a fairly insular community due to its small size, so when Heidi shows up looking to make a go of things there long term, sheâ€™s met with some amount of skepticism. While Heidi might have blended in seamlessly in a larger, more metropolitan area, sheâ€™s a definite novelty in Jindabyne, adding more of a sense of isolation to her already fragile emotional state.
When Joe enters her life, she opens up to him completely and hopes for the same intimacy in return. Unfortunately, Joe is not willing to appear vulnerable at all, so he keeps her at armâ€™s length and occasionally ignores her completely. He has feelings for her; heâ€™s just not capable of letting down his defenses. This leads to more desperation from Heidi, more drama for both of them, and sets up the overly tidy resolution of the film.