By Young Film Critic Alithnayn (Fareeda) Abdulkareem
Almost midway into Rocks, the titular character, played with remarkable depth by Bukky Bakray remarks that she was given that moniker because she was always moving recklessly. Objectively, much of her actions over the course of the film can be viewed and categorised as counterproductive, reckless even.
What director, Sarah Gavron and her team achieve with beauty and skill is the rationalisation of Rock’s journey – from carefree teenage student to stand in parent, and back again. It begins with an overview of Rocks’ life as a precocious teenager, going to classes and mouthing off about breakfast. This does not last for long, as she quickly has to contend with her new, but not entirely unexpected burdens.
RocksSarah Gavron IFFR 2020 93′
Rocks, an East London teenager, has to look after her kid brother when her mum suddenly disappears. A drama bursting with youthful energy.
15-year old Rocks from East London – really good at make-up and laughing with her friends – suddenly has to get by on her own when her mother disappears, abandoning her and her kid brother. A disturbing, warm, lively and enormously appealingly-acted drama by the director of Brick Lane and Suffragette.
The film is shot in a matter of fact manner, that grounds it in a realism – allowing for the audience to empathise with Rocks and her friends, even when she hurts them. The film wisely avoids presenting its many tense moments in a more theatrical manner. Rather the audience is given a real-time view of tragedy and its consequences, without being explicitly instructed on how to feel about the events as they unfold. The story is anchored by the wonderful performance of protagonist Bukky Bakray. Rocks’ (Bakray) day takes a bend for the worse when her mentally ill mother abandons her and her little brother. She bears her changing circumstances with remarkable stoicism. Even as the movie escalates towards its unravelling, we never fear that Rocks may reach a point where things feel too far to turn around. Even as she goes from a big disagreement with her best friend, Sumaya (Kosar Ali) to yelling at a motel receptionist, one holds faith in her redemption.
Narratively, Rocks works on many interconnected levels. It is a portrait of friendship. The movie begins and ends with friendship. The scenes are shot in the manner the dialogue unfolds, with a slight sense of carelessness. We shoot past the girls as they excite over songs, discuss their professional ambitions and croak about things of general interest to teenage girls. These girls are a well-rounded support group, dishing out hard truths with the same earnestness they use when reconciling.
The movie is a tender portrayal of siblinghood. Rocks and her little brother, Emmanuel spend much of the film together. Played with originality and endearment by D’angelou Osei Kissiedu, Emmanuel seems at once fully aware of the weight of their circumstances yet remains disaffected in that magical resilient way that children can be. When he tells Rocks of their mother – "I don't want her to come back anymore" – it doesn't come across as mean, just an affirmation of his loyalty to Rocks, the one who stays.
Masterclass: Screenwriting RocksIFFR 2020
Director Sarah Gavron and associate director Anu Henriques talk about the exceptional, communal way Rocks was written.
The friendships between the girls in Rocks feel so true to life because they are drawn from real life. The screenplay was created in close cooperation with the young, non-professional lead actresses. Director Sarah Gavron and associate director Anu Henriques talk about this exceptional, joint writing process.
Women rooting for themselves through hard times is not a new cinematic revelation but seeing a group of diverse teenage girls navigate the complexities of their different realities and remain supportive can still be considered a rare thing. When the girls pool their funds to get enough for a ticket to see Emmanuel in Hampstead, it encompassed the beauty and young female friendships.
Rocks is not a movie solely for teenage girls. It is for everyone who believes in the power of relationships and their ability to help a person grow.