coming of age

REVIEW: All This Panic (2016)

A documentary following a group of teenage girls for three years, from their last year in high school to their first few years in college, looking at the relationships they make along the way and how they and their lives change in that time.

All This Panic is a great because it doesn’t judge any of the girls it follows, instead it shows all their different sides, the times things go well for them as well as arguments they may have with parents or their friends. It allows you to form your own opinion on each girl while still understanding that they are all growing and learning all the time.

Out of the group of friends one decided not to go to college, so it was interesting to see how her life differed to her friends and how they tried to stay in touch and if they could remain as great friends as they were in school. I think it’s good to see how relationships can change and to allow that to happen, and just because they weren’t together every day anymore, it didn’t mean their friendship was over.

The girls all talked about boys, and girls, they fancy, what they thought about relationships and how when they’re seventeen you can’t win as if you haven’t had sex it’s seen as weird, but if you have then you shouldn’t have. All This Panic paints a very honest picture of what teen girls go through and to paraphrase what Sage says, “People want to see teen girls, but don’t want to hear them.”

All This Panic is a short film, but it packs a lot in. It’s entertaining and affecting as it’s easy to see yourself in these girls and you want them all to find their way and be comfortable in their own skin. 4/5.


READ THE WORLD – Democratic Republic of the Congo: Black Moses by Alain Mabanckou

It’s 1970, and in the People’s Republic of Congo, a Marxist-Leninist revolution is heralding a new age. But in the orphanage where Moses has grown up, they have terror and corruption in the form of the orphanage’s director. When Moses makes his escape, he finds a new home in busy Pointe-Noire with petty thieves and Z airian prostitutes. His new life is thrown into chaos when he authorities want to remove the city’s underbelly, and as they do so, Moses starts to lose grip on reality.

Black Moses is a captivating and well-written read. The language used paints a vivid picture of Moses and his life, growing up from child orphan to teenage thief and to an adult who has his own family unit. The interesting thing is that Moses’ life is so often shaped by political turmoil but it’s something that neither he nor the book really comments on, events happen and sometimes Moses doesn’t even really notice them.

There are a lot of references to various political leaders and the repressive politics of the Congo, having an understanding of that may have made the book more enjoyable, but it was still an accessible read. It has a lot of themes you can connect to, regardless of your knowledge of what life was like in 1970s Congo. There’s themes of loss, family, friendship and being forced to grow up fast.

The story is a quick read and there’s many funny moments. Whether that’s the situations Moses finds himself in, especially his antics in the orphanage, or through the dialogue between characters. The dialogue is quick, sharp and witty and is a great indicator as to what these characters and like and what they value.

Black Moses is an enjoyable read. At just under 200 pages the story speeds along as you follow Moses through his childhood to adulthood, leaning more about him and those he loves and loses along the way. 4/5.

REVIEW: The Fits (2015)

While training in the boxing gym with her brother Jermaine (Da’Sean Minor), tomboy Toni (Royalty Hightower) becomes interested in the dance troupe that practices in the room next door. When Toni decides to join the troupe, she not only struggles to fit in with the other girls but finds herself in danger as the each of the group starts to suffer from violent fits and fainting spells.

The Fits is an atmospheric and intriguing film about a young girl growing up and the balance between trying to fit in and being yourself. Toni is athletic and strong, but it’s in such a different way to the girls in the troupe that she finds it hard to be a part of it to begin with. The film does a good job of showing how isolated Toni feels with the way the camera frames her and the music, or lack thereof. As Toni comes into herself and starts to get the dance routines you can see the joy shine through on her face.

The fits that the girls in the dance troupe almost begin to seem like a right of passage, as those who have had them discuss what it felt like, and those who haven’t wish to have them so they know what it’s like and can fit in. Toni’s budding friendship with Beezy (Alexis Neblett) is charming and the way they play together in the gym after dark feels incredibly real. that’s one of the good things about this film, all the characters and performances feel so organic you want these young girls to succeed.

The Fits is a slow film with a good lead performance but it’s a good job it has such a short runtime as I found myself getting more bored than interested as the film progressed. It’s a strange film that’s hard to describe, something it shares with many other small-budget indie films. 2/5.

REVIEW: The Edge of Seventeen (2016)

Nadine’s (Hailee Steinfeld) life gets a lot more complicated and frustrating when her best friend Krista (Haley Lu Richardson) starts dating her older brother Darian (Blake Jenner).

The Edge of Seventeen is a sweet and funny coming of age drama. Nadine is such a flawed and frustrating yet sympathetic character. She is quite self-centred, thinking that she is the only one who has any problems in their life, yet she’s still a teenager who fears she’s losing her one and only friend to her cooler brother. You get where she’s coming from even if the way she deals with it sometimes is incredibly cringe-worthy – I definitely got some second-hand embarrassment from this film but this made Nadine feel more real and relatable.

Nadine’s relationship with her teacher Mr Bruner (Woody Harrelson) is wonderful, and it’s also where a lot of the comedy comes from. Her mother (Kyra Sedgwick) has her own problems and is never available for Nadine to talk to or ask for advice so Mr Bruner becomes almost a surrogate parent in her eyes.

The Edge of Seventeen is a great film. With its clever script, it both embraces and subverts the typical high school clichés. It’s funny and heartfelt and Hailee Steinfeld is brilliant – it’s her performance that gets you to like Nadine even when she’s doing crazy things and pushing people away. 4/5.

REVIEW: Middle of Nowhere (2008)

middle-of-nowhere-2008-posterWhen Grace (Eva Amurri Martino) realises her irresponsible mother (Susan Sarandon) hasn’t paid of the credit cards that she took out in her name, thus running her chances of getting funding for college, she teams up with her summer job co-worker Dorian (Anton Yelchin) in his scheme to make money from selling marijuana.

Middle of Nowhere has some great performances and some believable and relatable teenage characters. While Dorian and Grace are good friends it doesn’t mean they don’t fight and fall-out with each other, but again, just because they fight doesn’t mean they won’t still look out for and still care about each other.

Middle of Nowhere doesn’t go in with all the usual clichés for coming-of-age films and it is very true to life because when you find out that someone has hurt you it doesn’t always turn into a huge shouting match. Sometimes, you have to hide the fact you’re hurt and then just get over it. Also sometimes you might kiss someone and then you go back to being exactly as you were, you neither never talk to them again nor suddenly realise they are the love of your life.

Grace’s younger sister Taylor (Willa Holland) is also a great character and manages to be her own person and avoids being the “annoying younger sister”. Grace cares about her, and so does Dorian. There’s a scene where Taylor ends up at a party with Dorian because he has drugs to sell and when she gets into trouble he reacts and helps her even though it could potentially put himself at risk. Yelchin, Holland and Martino all have amazing chemistry which is important because the film pretty much rests on their performances and relationships.

Middle of Nowhere is a hidden gem; it’s teenage characters are relatable as they struggle with parents’ expectations and figuring out what they want to do with their lives. With great performances and a lovely soundtrack, Middle of Nowhere is worth checking out. 4/5.

REVIEW: Mustang (2015)

mustang-movie-posterWhen five sisters are seen innocently playing with boys on the beach, their conservative guardians confine them to the house and make plans to marry them all off.

The five sisters are each unique in their personalities and how they deal with the situation they find themselves in. Their home becomes a fortress with high gates and bars on the windows but they still manage to find their own small ways to rebel or to still have fun. While their struggles affect them all, you see most of what happens through Lale’s (Günes Sensoy) point of view. She’s the youngest so she has to watch her sisters get forced into marriages while she dreams of escape to Istanbul. Through her you see the effect’s the sisters’ confinement and arranged marriages have on all of them and how these five sisters have such a strong bond.

Throughout Mustang there’s reference to feminism and female empowerment. In one scene you can hear people on the TV saying that feminists are against motherhood, and the idea that the girls have to be virgins when they are married is important to all the older family members.

The thing about Mustang is that there are shocking moments but they all happen off screen, it’s as if it’s trying to protect Lale’s innocence. There’s also many moments of humour as the sisters find something to laugh about even though their situation is suffocating, like when Lale and Nur (Doga Zeynep Doguslu) say they’re going swimming but really they pretend on blankets and towels in their bedroom.

The cast is phenomenal, especially the five young actresses and the way the film is shot makes everything look beautiful. Mustang is a wonderful film that looks at the complexities of siblinghood and how sisters will always look out for each other. There’s moments of laughter and sadness as the sisters slowly discover that if they really want something in life, they will have to take it. 5/5.

REVIEW: Ask Me Anything (2014)

ask-me-anything-posterWhen Katie Kampenfelt (Britt Robertson) decides to take a year off before college her college adviser suggests to her that she could start a blog to give her year off some structure. Her blog becomes her outlet for her adventures in love and sex with boyfriend Rory (Max Carver), college professor Dan (Justin Long) and her boss Paul (Christian Slater).

Ask Me Anything is an interesting drama as not only does it shine a light on a young woman who is pretty confident in her sexuality but it also looks at social media and the blogging platform and how it can make a relatively normal person internet famous. There’s a lot of people commenting on Katie’s life and her choices, she reads every comment both positive and negative and is unashamed of her exploits. She judges her readers just like they judge her.

Katie is a bit of a mess. She is having relationships with three guys almost simultaneously and when there’s guys who just see her as a friend and actually like her she wants nothing to do with them. Katie knows there’s something probably wrong with her and out of all the people in her life she goes to her former boss with a dodgy past Glenn (Martin Sheen) for advice. Sheen and Robertson have great chemistry and while their relationship isn’t the main focus of the film, it is one of the elements that really shines.

Ask Me Anything doesn’t shy away from sex and Katie also smokes, both regular cigarettes and drugs, and is probably on the verge of becoming an alcoholic. That doesn’t mean it has all the answers. Ask Me Anything does have some twists and turns and lives you wanting more answers and more of a tied up, simple ending for Katie. But life isn’t simple and if there’s one thing Ask Me Anything shows is that people keep secrets and you never know everything.

Ask Me Anything is an interesting coming-of-age drama that doesn’t give you all the answers and may leave too many loose ends for some viewers. Still, it is worth watching for Britt Robertson’s brilliant performance and she has great chemistry with any actor she’s paired with. 3/5.

Fun fact: I watched Ask Me Anything after I saw it on Netflix because the director’s name was Allison Burnett and thought I could watch it for the #52FilmsbyWomen challenge. Turns out that Allison Burnett is a man (Allison is a name I never realised could be for both genders) so I felt a bit conned because thinking it had a woman director made me watch Ask Me Anything sooner than I probably would’ve. But as you can see above, I did enjoy Ask Me Anything, I was just a bit annoyed I couldn’t add it to my #52FilmsbyWomen list on Letterboxd.