Sunday 20 January 2019

Two for Joy (UK 2018: Dir Tom Beard)

Tom Beard's debut feature, produced by his mentor Sadie Frost, is a film clearly inspired by the early works of Andrea Arnold and Lynne Ramsay. Samantha Morton plays Aisha, newly bereaved of her husband, heavily medicated and clearly not coping - she can hardly get out of bed. So it falls to her dutiful teenage daughter Vi to keep the household going. Vi's younger brother Troy, a tearaway with a recent involvement in the robbery of a convenience shop, makes up the remainder of the rather fractured family.

Vi convinces Aisha that they should spend some time at the coastal family caravan (in a later scene we realise that this break is in school term time, hinting at the dysfunction of the family). Once there, they meet site caretaker Lias, his sister Lillah and her wayward daughter Miranda, a kinetic ball of anger. Two for Joy concentrates on how these two families integrate and gradually disclose the details of their lives, until, almost inevitably, tragedy strikes.

Beard's movie does all the right things. It has a first rate cast, although its younger members occasionally threaten to outdo the adults here. Samantha Morton perfectly inhabits the role of a woman where bereavement has robbed her of all but the most basic faculties, and Billie Piper reminds us of her range as the brusque Lillah, torn between the protection of her daughter and her love for her abusive partner. But it's Emilia Jones as Vi and Badger Skelton as Troy that really shine. Jones achieves a stunning mix of teenage awkwardness, practicality in the face of grief, and split loyalties as the unofficial carer of her mother who increasingly resents Aisha's reliance on her. Skelton's Troy is a confused product of poor parenting, a world turned upside down since the death of his father, and a desperate need to run from everything. His developing relationship with Miranda (Bella Ramsey, a slightly too feral performance which robs the role of anything nuanced) is possibly the first time he's experienced a proper friendship with someone with whom his waywardness is understood and shared.

Two for Joy is photographed by Tim Sidell in the by now rather familiar muted tones of socially aware dramas, using the expected backdrops of broken housing estates and caravan parks (it was filmed in Dorset). Beard also uses a faux distressed frame around the screen, redolent of a device used to represent home movies, which seems a step too far in creating the film's scuffed look. And it's this feeling, that the director is trying a bit too hard, that detracts from the impact of the film.

The narrative setup, using death, abuse, post bereavement mental health and children struggling to make sense of the world, doesn't really amount to much more than a succession of scenes showing people in crisis. It's not like I was expecting a redemptive conclusion, more that I didn't see anything particularly emblematic in the lives I was being shown. Beard's script is serviceable, but occasionally stumbles a little implausibly into self help territory. What he's good at is the small details: keen fisherman Troy kissing a fish he's caught before returning it to the river; the terrified look on Miranda's face when she realises that the person constantly calling Lillah is her abusive father; Vi clearing up after her mother and the disappointment registering in her eyes. Beard is clearly a director of some talent. I just hope that his next film will explore some less well trod territory.

Two for Joy previews on Wednesday 20 February at the Screen on the Green including a Q&A Danny Mays, Badger Skelton, Bella Ramsey and director Tom Beard, Tickets to the screening  can be found here:

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