An old saying states that youth is wasted on the young. There may be a lot of truth to this. Kids want to grow up fast while adults yearn for the more carefree days of childhood. Of course, from our vantage point of adulthood with all of its responsibilities childhood may seem to be nice fluffy memories of a simpler time in life. Actually, if you think about it realistically being a kid, especially a teen, had its own set of problems. This rite of passage between teens and adult lives has fueled many pieces of literature and more films that you could possible count. They usually are lumped under the broad genre of ‘coming of age’ films. That classification is more than a bit misleading. It infers that after this ‘rite’ everything will turn out well. The reality of the situation for most teens in the world is they will just move from troubled teens to disturbed adults. It is a difficult, up hill battle to make something better in your life. This has become increasing true in the last few decades as everything in a teen’s life has been intensified. Bullies have moved from giving a wedgie to outright acts of violence. Drugs are more prevalent in the teen world than ever before and sex is something many kids engage in just to feel something; some connection to another person, it is just something to do. As parents we may be horrified by these facts but these things are out there. Movies concerned with this stage in a person’s life are usually in one of two categories; glorify it or act as a cautionary tale. One film has broken away from this and attempts to just show what life for a modern, inner city teen is like. This film is ‘Kidulthood’ by Menhaj Huda and Noel Clarke. It is a darkly realistic view into this world that is playing out in some form in a neighborhood near you. Like many films that try to be original and break the established rules this one took years to come to our shores here in the States. It was filmed in late 2004 and made the usual independent film festival rounds in 2006. It also had some European DVD releases along the way. Image Entertainment has continued their commitment to little gems and has released this to region one DVD. It is a brutal look at life that may be difficult to watch at time but this is because of the inherent honesty of the story and presentation. This is a gripping film that will pull you in and not let you go.
Noel Clarke wrote and stars in this film. He is best known here in America as Billie Piper’s boyfriend in ‘Dr. Who’ and perhaps ‘Torchwood’. Watching him run from strange creatures in border line silly outfits was no indication of the depth of this man’s talent. He grew up in a culturally diverse area in London and writes from experience and most importantly from the heart. His only previous screenplay was for a comic short film. After this he did go on to scripts for an episode of ‘Torchwood’ as well this film’s sequel, ‘Adulthood’. His story is specific to London teens but the problems they face are far more universal in nature. This helps to allow this film to garner the wider appeal that it so richly deserves. There are many similarities with the seminal trouble youth film, Larry Clark’s ‘Kids’. That film was a decade before the time of this one. ‘Kidulthood’ shows that the social problems of sex, drugs and violence have not abated over this time. There has been some degree of controversy over the events portrayed. As shown but comparing this to the previously released ‘Kids’ this has been going on for a long time and teens do not need the instigation of a film to continue in this fashion. Clarke paints a sometimes bleak view of these kids. They are in the sixth form in the English education system; roughly equivalent to the middle years of high school here. You might expect to be revolted to see teens engaged in such activities but the way that Clarke constructs the story you will be engrossed almost immediately. This was vital to the success of a movie like this. Clarke makes you care about the plight of teens that normally your have nothing but distain for. He shows them as just trying to cope with the situation they were handed. It is not so much that they are the poor, innocent victims of society. Clarke deftly avoids this pit fall. He just presents the characters as what they are, teens trying to survive growing up.
The direction by Menhaj Huda is fascinating to watch. He has some experience mostly in television series and flicks on both sides of the Atlantic. Here his style is straight from the shoulder; not pulling any punches. He does not glamorize the life these teens are living but he also doesn’t condemn them for it. There is a lack of glossy camera tricks adding to the realistic look and feel exhibited here. At times his stylistic choices appear to be too loose and unstructured. To the contrary this is the perfect way to present the material of this story. The kids involved are for the most part unable to plan things out fully and the free association use of the camera fits the mood to perfection.
The film starts off with an overview of the major players in the drama that is about to unfold. Blake (Nicholas Hoult), a middle class student is handing out invitations to his up coming party. Trevor (Aml Ameen) is busy in a deserted shop class boring out the barrel of a gun. In the middle of the school yard Claire (Madeleine Fairley) is snogging a boy, Jay (Adam Deacon); his hands up her skirt indifferent to the others around them. The potential problem here is her boyfriend is Sam (Noel Clarke). Becky (Jaime Winstone) is encouraging her best friend Alisa (Red Madrell) to go to Blake’s party but Alisa is not feeling well. Becky promises to get some money together to pay for a pre-party shopping spree. This involves sex in trade for money and drugs. Sam is a bully, spitting in the hair of a meek looking girl, Katie (Rebecca Martin). Under the instigation of Sam a group of girls brutally beat Katie in the classroom; no one helps her. Later she goes home and commits suicide. Her brother, Lenny (Rafe Spall) is out for revenge. The masterful way that Huda and Clarke let these initial events and situations simmer is what sets this film apart from the pack. You have a good idea of what is going to ultimately happen but the suspense is in the journey.
This is just a finely crafted film that stands above so many independent movies lately. Thankfully Clarke and Huda decided against the easy way out with yet another slasher flick and jumped right into the depths of cinema. This is a film that shows the importance of the Indy movie world and thankfully Image is providing the DVD. The sequel ‘Adulthood’ should be coming up soon and personally I can’t wait.