what is this? a coming-of-age drama or a suburban social realist parable? – a combo that must have made the pitch catnip for the commissioning execs at the bfi – I don’t think the film resolved these two: it plumped for the coming-of-age through line, but this didn’t really blend with the conflicts in the cul-de-sac [the setting is a cul-de-sac in North London], the two separated when they should have emulsified
still the combination did produce a thrilling first scene, when Oswald suddenly attacks Rick after his odd, but friendly exchange with ‘Skunk’, our heroine; the quirky blindsided by the aggressive – a moment so good we have to see it twice
This kind of material – moralistic domestic suburban strife – could have been very tedious so I suppose we should be thankful the film chose to take the kid’s perspective
as consequence we get nimble non-linear editing – cutting forward, back, across (à la Donald Cammell) – which lends some (very) familiar scenes a refreshing, occasionally perplexing sense of weightlessness, then again this impressionistic style is exactly how you’d expect the ‘carefree childhood’ sequences to be filmed, apparently this is how kids experience the world …
A pleasant watch with a lovely natural performance from newcomer Eloise Laurence, Tim Roth luxuriating in his a nicely turned bourgeois role. Rory Kinnear is a powerhouse and the girl playing his youngest daughter, Martha Bryant, a terrifying little bully (oh, how my heart sank when the bullying storyline appeared), also a lovely tender moment between Archie (Tim Roth) and his Polish ‘housemaid/nanny’ involving a clothes-peg …
A pity then that after the halfway mark the fizz goes out of the story and the plot comes crashing down, literally, when Rick accidentally pushing his mother downstairs, to her death, a contrivance mitigated only slightly by not being shown, indeed, this entire sequence was (badly) contrived: a raucous house party seems to be winding down, the three hosts are dozing on the sofa, what time of night must this be, do you think? the early hours perhaps, but wait, this is also the time that Rick is brought home from the mental hospital with his mother waiting with a cake, so that can’t be right, but it doesn’t matter, the important thing is for Rick to encounter the obnoxious neighbours, who had driven him to the brink, when he arrives, an encounter which will push him over the edge, his father forgot to buy milk on the way home and so absents himself before the crucial moment, while no one in the cul-de-sac has been bothered by the loud music blaring from the home of three delinquent girls whose father was arrested earlier in the day, no disturbance at all.
I wonder how it played in the original novel … maybe the mental hospital was somewhere on Dartmoor and it was a twelve-hour round trip to collect him, maybe the two incidents didn’t coincide in quite the same way, if at all.
Yes, this was adapted from a novel, that’ll be why it had such a large cast of characters and sought to give them most of them some dimension of humanity:
a quick study of the blurb for the novel flags some revealing divergences: the girl’s fascination with Rick, her neighbour seems, curiously, to be dramatized more in the novel than the film, here they show her regarding each other from the window opposite from time to time – (would his parents really have given Rick the front bedroom, typically the location of the master bedroom? I don’t think so) – that’s it really, Skunk is more preoccupied with going to the big school, sex, and being bullied, and her two cohorts (her brother and her ‘boyfriend’) don’t get involved in Rick’s story, did they feel the drama of the main plot was too intense and calculated they would get away with it if they layered it underneath the coming-of-age story? they were right on the first point, I suspect, and judging by the awards, they more than got away with it
But what does all this mean?
The girl, Skunk, suffers from type 1 diabetes and ultimately uses it to place herself at extreme risk (or the story uses it, I’m not sure which) in order to ‘leave and come back’ – hence the purgatorial schtick in a church filled with all the people in her life ; on the other hand, it gives us a heart-warming symmetry between beginning and end, with her father sat by her side at the incubator and when she awakes from her coma, this left me (the audience) feeling good as the credits rolled
but there was plenty middle class paranoia in the rest of it, a family of obnoxious ‘plebs’ terrorize the weak – to the point of mass murder! – and a mild-mannered self-righteous solicitor can’t do anything about it, but nature delivers her judgement on the slut making false accusations: she dies of the complications of a miscarriage, neatly also punishing her ignorant thug of a father, the solicitor meanwhile is rewarded for his quiet virtue not only with the ‘return’ of his daughter, but also with the gift of a sexy Polish nanny/girlfriend
But none of this moralizing satisfies me, especially the latter – I wanted the nanny all for myself!