Directed by: #HarvardJohn
Written by: #HarvardJohn
Can you remember when you spent your youth at the Catholic boarding school your incredibly wealthy parents paid to send you to, wallowing in your own privilege, drinking and doing class A drugs far too often? I mean, we’ve all been there, right? No, me neither. But that’s where we are in Harvard John’s feature-debut, Sticky Toffee Pudding, a Cruel Intentions meets Skins concoction which never feels as strong or as assured as either of its influences.
17-year-old Shelby (Samuel Nicholls) returns to boarding school shortly after the death of his best friend, Hephzibah (Abi Watkinson), to an undisclosed disease. Grief-stricken and haunted by the memory of his friend, he struggles to re-adjust back into school life. Until that is, head girl Lilibet (Emma-Kate Barry) takes him under her wing and introduces him to her contemptible little clique: exposing him to a world of parties, sex and substance abuse.
It may sound harsh, but believe me, when I say these people are entirely detestable and deeply unlikable, I mean it. The performances themselves are good, although there are a few delivery issues in places. Unfortunately, the only characters I ever felt anything for (that wasn’t disdain) were Ariel (Samuel G Caple), Shelby and Hephzibah. The writing is a little messy and repetitive for the most part. It quite often doesn’t make sense. Margot (Genevieve Lewis) is angry when she finds out she was the subject of a sexual bet but is quite happy to “slut-shame” other girls for the same thing. At the same time, Roisin (Sophie May) provides Margot with the tools needed for revenge, only to then spend the next scene telling Margot not to do it.
Funnily enough, though, the underlying theme of loss is well-executed, sincere and very touching. Told through Hephzibah narrating excerpts from her diary (a gift she bequeathed to Shelby after her death) – which ring with a beautiful Shakesperean-like poeticism – and flashback scenes of the couple one happy summer. The relationship between these two characters was considerably more enjoyable and heartfelt than any of the others’ – although the scene where Roisin comforts Ariel towards the end of the film was beautifully acted – and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get a little emotional in places. With Eloise Roitman’s graceful camerawork and Hum Chandna’s superb coming-of-age genre soundtrack, you have a film which is, quite frustratingly, more than capable of eliciting feelings of sympathy from its audience.
I think the main problem here is that I’m not sure what the point of the film is. Sadly, Sticky Toffee Pudding doesn’t accurately represent the experiences of the majority of British students, and so can’t be considered a universally relatable coming-of-age tale. The characters – mainly a display of white upper-class privilege – are bereft of any endearing quality, and any semblance of development is severely lacking and seemingly pointless. But there’s a sharp display of talent onscreen here, from all avenues of the filmmaking team, and for a feature-debut, things could certainly have been much worse. Sticky Toffee Pudding isn’t a bad film; it’s just a little frustrating.