WHERE TO WATCH:
WHAT IT'S ABOUT:
A teenage girl struggles to take care of herself and her younger brother after they are abandoned by their single mother.
WHAT WE THOUGHT:
It's very difficult to describe the feeling I felt after watching Rocks. It was an extremely heartbreaking and real story, but it was still compelling – and dare I say it, fun to watch. Rocks is unlike anything you've seen before and the type of film that you will remember for years to come.
The film follows Olushola (Bukky Bukray), nicknamed Rocks, after she defended her best friend from bullies, as she spends time with her friends. She comes home from school one day to find out that her mom is gone, and all she left Rocks with is a little money for food and a note telling her to take care of her little brother. Through the way Rocks reacts, we are led to believe that her mother has done this before and has come back. However, this time she stays away for a while, and Rocks has to constantly be hustling to try and look after her brother, Emmanuel (D'angelou Osei Kissiedu), and avert the concerned eyes of teachers friends, and social workers.
Just as beautiful as the film, is the story behind it. Director Sarah Gavron (Suffragette, Brick Lane), screenwriters Theresa Ikoko and Claire Wilson, and casting director Lucy Pardee first cast the film with mainly first-time actors, and then workshopped the story with the actors. It is also partly why the film feels so natural. The opening scene follows the group of multi-cultured friends as they wander London, staring at the Shard in the distance, imagining scenarios where their non-existent boyfriends take them out. The laughter, the teasing, and familiarity don't feel like acting; it feels like friends who know each other well and are comfortable with one another.
And that's the thing; it feels authentic. It might be easy for one to forget that they're watching a narrative film and think that they are watching a documentary about teenagers in London - that's how good it is. Rocks does well to depict the multiculturalism of a popular city like London without making it look like tokenism or major plot points. The girls easily discuss their heritage from Sumaya, whose family is from Somalia, to Sabina, whose family were Polish gypsies. This is the London that so many people know, but it is hardly ever depicted. The characters also felt like real teenagers – how they reacted to situations, what they coveted, what they enjoyed – they weren't caricatures; they were fully-fleshed characters with their own opinions and motivations.
I would be remiss if I did not mention the sensational acting in this film. Both Bukky Bukray and Kosai Ali, who plays Rocks' best friend Sumaya, have been nominated for BAFTA's for their roles, and you can see why. Bukray is the emotional anchor of this film, and she carries it on her shoulders just as she carries the weight of her responsibility to take care of herself and her brother under extreme circumstances. Even when she's being vulnerable or making a wrong turn, you want to support her; you want to believe in what she's saying. When she says her mother is coming back, you believe her, when she fiercely defends her brother and believes that he will be a king, you believe that too, and when she says she's going to be a business mogul with her own makeup company like Rihanna, you agree. Rocks is an endearing character without being too-good-to-be-true; she falters, she makes many mistakes, and things don't always work out the way she wants it to, but you still have hope that things will get better.
There is a compelling scene between Rocks and Sumaya when Rocks and Emmanuel are avoiding child services and are staying at Sumaya's house. Rocks, who is jealous that Sumaya is surrounded by a supportive family, lashes out at Sumaya, and Sumaya responds by telling her to leave. You feel the weight of this friendship tear because, over the course of the film, you have felt invested in their friendship as well. And Bukray and Ali's emotional performances are so strong that they seem to feel the pain of the betrayal throughout their entire bodies.
D'angelou Osei Kissiedu, the actor who plays Emmanuel, is also worth noting. He is so adorable and effortlessly sways from precocious and curious to absolutely vulnerable and heartbroken because of his mother's abandonment. The emotional range that he extends throughout the film is admirable, sometimes only acting in body language as he witnesses Rocks going through hell and high water to keep their lives sustained.
When it comes to directing, one is always cautious when a white director directs a film with a predominantly POC cast, but what benefitted Sarah Gavron was the workshopping process. Rocks, Emmanuel, Sumaya and the rest of the crew were not just characters, they were people to Gavron, and the tender way the film was directed seems to demonstrate this. The camera never seems to judge or condescend to the characters; through the movement between camera shots and vertical phone shots (like Snapchat), the cinematography by Hélène Louvart makes you feel like you are there as well, that you are part of the girl gang. As they dance or banter with each other, you feel the energy exude from the screen to us, the audience.
Rocks is a film you won't easily forget – not because it's traumatic or difficult to watch – but because it will pull on your heartstrings and make you truly care about these characters. This was a masterpiece.
WATCH THE TRAILER HERE: