This review was originally published as part of our Edinburgh Film Festival coverage on 29/06/2019.
Grief hangs large over Jamie Adams’ new drama: it opens on a funeral of Scottish-American art student Shirley’s father, pausing her studies and sending her mother into a meltdown. The ensuing film follows Shirley’s reassessment of her life, balancing her own emotional needs with her place as a daughter and friend – especially to her longtime bestie Hannah. The two-handers where separate players candidly challenge each other prove the strongest moments.
Unfortunately, the honesty and texture of these relationships is undermined by a melodramatic presentation. The band Biffy Clyro collaborated on the story and score, but their songs seem to jar with the verisimilitude the rest of the film conveys. These feel like they would be more at home on The Bronze’s stage, providing the soundtrack to Buffy Summers’ very ’90s heartbreak, than in a contemporary piece that aims to prioritise truthful portrayals over campy charm. When the cheese arrives in the form of an overly neat conclusion, it is the wrong type, feeling entirely unearned.
This leads us to the film’s main flaw: the intensely privileged lives led by all main characters is never adequately interrogated. Yes, art school types are lightly and lovingly roasted, and grief and relationship difficulties affect all regardless of socioeconomic position. That said, the extremely comfortable position that allows Shirley and company to pursue unprofitable vocations is taken for granted without an ounce of self-awareness. Hannah’s graduate art show consisting solely of literal selfies would be satire in better hands; here it is obliviousness.
Balance, Not Symmetry is an uneven film that struggles to balance veracity with happily-ever-after. Watching three women work through their interpersonal struggles with love and spirit is engaging, occasionally heartening but often myopic. Unfortunately, its ideas are weakened in translation and the finished product may not stick long in the memory.
CAST: Laura Harrier, Bria Vinaite, Lily Newmark, Scott Miller, Kate Dickie
DIRECTOR: Jamie Adams
WRITERS: Jamie Adams, Simon Neil
SYNOPSIS: An art student reassesses her relationships after the death of her father.