If you’re going to make a movie about modern youth, you have to consult with modern youth. Too many films in this genre feel embarrassingly dated the instant they come out, and it’s to Sarah Gavron, Theresa Ikoko and Claire Wilson’s huge credit that Rocks never, ever stumbles into this trap. With a script and story written in conjunction with their cast of young Londoners, it’s an authentic, joyous delight.
Occupying a social-realist middle ground between Loachian misery and The Florida Project’s child’s-eyes glee, Rocks follow its eponymous character’s (Bukky Bakray) struggles after her unstable mum abandons her to take care of herself and her young brother Emmanuel (D’angelou Osei Kissiedu) alone. It is a journey by turns heartbreaking, hilarious, and frustrating, but never overly mired in sadness.
Rocks’ friends are wonderfully funny, their shooting-the-shit conversations about family traditions and how Hitler “needed to fix up” both immensely entertaining and immediately familiar. This is how kids chat to one another, sometimes idiotic, sometimes whip-smart, and we get to know Rocks’ social circle with efficiency and laughs. This is a London story through and through, at home in the city and immersing you with fly-on-the-wall cinematography and a carefully curated soundtrack.
This realism and observational skill keeps the story afloat, as Rocks’ series of bad, stubborn decisions about her and Emmanuel’s welfare make perfect sense once we’re in her headspace. Frightened teenagers are not logical, but Rocks still learns and grows throughout, culminating in a final scene in which she displays a moving, tragic maturity that she shouldn’t have had to master yet.
Informative and moving and thoroughly entertaining, Rocks should by all rights be a breakout hit with its immensely likeable cast and propulsive, involving story. Remarkably different from Gavron’s previous film, the rather dry Suffragette, Rocks, well, rocks.
CAST: Bukky Bakray, D’angelou Osei Kissiedu, Kosar Ali
DIRECTOR: Sarah Gavron
WRITERS: Theresa Ikoko, Claire Wilson
SYNOPSIS: A teenage girl suddenly finds herself struggling to take care of herself and her younger brother.