Directed by: #SarahGavron
The effect of Rocks is evident almost instantaneously. Right from the off, Sarah Gavron’s new film captures the chaotic joy of teenage interaction. This feeling of joy - whether it’s familiar or deeply nostalgic for you - takes hold of the audience and ultimately provides the context for the dramatic narrative. Rocks is a heart-breaking tale of the dangers of losing innocent youth to the oppressive systems of the real adult world, but remains a visceral, and ultimately optimistic, display of teenage relationships. It is a tremendous new film that promotes a unique female vision of modern Britain.
When Rocks’ (Bukky Bakray) mother unexpectedly leaves home, the young teenager finds herself having to provide for both her and her younger brother. As she keeps her troubles to herself, rifts begin to form between Rocks and her close friends, which are only worsened by the arrival of Roshé, a rather troublesome new girl, at the school. Between dodging social workers and getting more withdrawn from her friends, Rocks finds herself isolated, and her natural teenage immaturity is exposed.
With such hefty dramatic material you would be forgiven to expect a cast of experienced actors playing younger, however Sarah Gavron and her crew took a risk and scouted a group of first time actors from London schools, with the hope of providing a more naturalistic feel to the film. In fact, the entire film started with the casting decisions and grew naturally from there, building the drama on top of improvised scenes where the young cast were given licence to play around, joke and dance with each other as teenage girls do. The result is an incredibly naturalistic, almost documentary like, feel to the film. Its visceral sense of teenage joy stems from these improvised scenes; the girls bubble with infectious energy. What’s even more impressive is that when it comes to the scripted drama the first-time actors remained in complete control. Bakray dominates the film with her lead performance, particularly shining in scenes where her character attempts to hide her troubles and project a confident, in-control image. D’angelou Osei Kissiedu, who plays Rocks’ younger brother, is also a star in the making with an adorably cheeky performance.
The cast as whole, along with Gavron’s direction and Maya Maffioli’s editing, expertly capture teenage interaction, almost to a fault. Both the improvisation and scripted drama work brilliantly, but the ultimately the film leans a bit too much towards the improvisation, sometimes at the expense of the narrative. The filmmakers are clearly in love with the casts’ charming interplay, and who can blame them, but perhaps it would have been even better if the girls had been encouraged to dramatically evolve their characters more.
Fantasy within cinema is often brilliant, but, when done well, authenticity can sometimes be even better. Rocks is pure authentic film-making. It not only portrays real life; it feels like real life. It is the story of one unique individual yet is tangibly real to everyone. It finds humour in everyday interaction and tragedy in all too common issues.
An important new British film. Find it, watch it, support it.