Film & TV Film Reviews Muse

Review: Rocks

Charlie Gaskell reviews Rocks, an uplifting and empowering coming-of-age film about a plucky teenage girl forced to care for her younger brother.

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Image Credit: Altitude Film Entertainment

8/10
Director: Sarah Gavron
Starring: Bukky Bakray, Kosar Ali, D'Angelou Osei Kissiedu
Running Time: 1hr 33mins
Rating: 12A

Sarah Gavron’s heartfelt coming-of-age drama, Rocks, captures a snapshot of the life of Shola or ‘Rocks’ (Bukky Bakray), whose mother disappears, forcing her to care for her younger brother. The film focuses on the dynamic between Rocks and her friends - a host of previously unknown acting talents. The group of young girls are a tour de force of chemistry and energy. The standout being the earnest Kosar Ali, who plays Rocks’ best friend ‘Surmaya’.

This isn’t Gavron’s first step into socially driven dramas, her 2015 film Suffragette was a historical account of the 1912 movement. The polished style of Suffragette contrasts to the rawness of Rocks - shot documentary verité. The authentic appeal to Rocks lifts it above Gavron’s other work. With a strong feminist driven message, it is a film that can appeal to the emotions of anyone who is willing to listen.

The film’s opening is light in tone, as Rocks behaves like an ordinary teenager, messing around with her friends. Through brief shots of the youthful, and diverse cast this introductory sequence takes only a few moments to succeed in capturing London’s multicultural society, and teenage sisterhood. The charming moments of humour in this opening continue in bursts throughout the film, but Gavron’s delicate direction doesn’t shy away from exposing the hardship of our heroine.

The cutting cinematic style shot by Helene Louvart, and the sharp screenplay by Theresa Ikoko and Claire Wilson is reminiscent of Shane Meadows’ This is England. The way the film captures the youthful outlook of the cast is admirable, and is aided significantly by the two leads stellar performances. The young girls spirited dynamic is overflowing with naturalistic chemistry, and grounded interactions. The strength of the screenplay can be felt in the genuinely heartfelt relationship between characters.

The film gives us a guided tour of the tenacity and determined spirit of Rocks, a figurehead for the fiery ferocity of teenage girls. The way the girls have been portrayed is a breath of fresh air. Leading female representation in cinema seems to fulfil stereotypical roles of warriors or powerful princesses. Rocks breaks the mould. Every aspect of these characters feels natural, unforced and overflowing with verisimilitude. They haven’t been grabbed from the Hollywood typecast list of what should be empowering for young women. Not to say that ‘warrior princesses’ in film are a bad thing - they still provide an excellent platform for inspiration in young girls. The difference is Rocks presents the same concept in a relatable, real-life form. The girls have been grabbed from the street and unveil the explicit experiences of teenage youth in London.

Rocks manages to capture a similar spirit to a multitude of British coming-of-age dramas. Possessing the same heart-breaking humanity as Kes, and comparable powerful spirit of Bend it Like Beckham. But Rocks manages to find its own unique voice amongst these films. No doubt this production will make an indelible mark in British film, through its dominant female production team, unique casting and forceful message of the resilience of teenage girls.

Rocks is now available to stream on Netflix.

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