Fresh, funny, sad and just slightly chaotic, Rocks is a film about a girl on the cusp of womanhood who finds herself tested by circumstances beyond her control.

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Fresh, funny, sad and just slightly chaotic, Rocks is a film about a girl on the cusp of womanhood who finds herself tested by circumstances beyond her control.

We are introduced to Shola (Bukky Bakray), "Rocks" to her friends, in a joyous light, negotiating teen life from the safety of a tight girl clique, which includes her wryly funny best friend Sumaya (Kosar Ali). The opening few minutes suggest this will be a pretty lighthearted tale of girls goofing in the big city, specifically East London.

But there is trouble on the horizon, hinted at in scenes showing the underlying tension of Rocks’ home life. We understand her single mom has a frail grasp on keeping the family together. When mom disappears, leaving a note of apology, Rocks is left to care for herself and her eight-year-old brother Emmanuel (D’angelou Osei Kissiedu), a delightful child, but also a boy attuned to the instability of his family unit.

Rocks’ troubles feel like walls closing in, first as she leaves her apartment when social workers come calling. She and her brother stay with friends on "sleepovers" that can’t go on too long, as parents will eventually get wise to the fact their guests are, in fact, homeless.

Director Sarah Gavron has opportunity to go full-throttle-melodrama here — think of Lee Daniels’ Precious — but she chooses a loose style that allows a realistic interplay between characters. Abetted by cinematographer Hélène Louvart, the film has the dangerous immediacy of cinema verité, which succeeds in making the emotional connection to these characters all the more poignant.

Supplied</p><p>The non-professional ensemble cast of Rocks, including Bukky Bakray (right), workshopped the film with director Sarah Gavron to ensure realism.</p>

Supplied

The non-professional ensemble cast of Rocks, including Bukky Bakray (right), workshopped the film with director Sarah Gavron to ensure realism.

Leavening the downbeat central story, though, is the way Gavron captures young female friendship. It feels very real, a result of the fact Gavron workshopped the piece with her cast of non-professional actors, who also guided the story.

There isn’t a false note. Indeed, there is something egalitarian about how the cast of mostly young women just bounce off each other. Though Bakray does excellent work depicting her heroine’s plight, there is nothing histrionic about her work. One gets the sense her castmates maintain a group effort to keep it real.

Especially noteworthy is the interplay with her younger brother, which starts with sibling goofiness before slowly revealing how Rocks is morphing into a maternal role for which she is little prepared.

One can detect a sea change with this film and other Brit product — the Irish Netflix series Derry Girls comes to mind — in its delving into the deeper meaning of female cliques, less as a social construct and more as an essential tool of survival

In the context of British film history, Rocks has roots in the social-realism roots of the 1960s, but it necessarily deviates from the angry-young-man tropes of that era to give voice to an ethnically diverse contingent of young women.

As it turns out, these young women have a lot to be angry about themselves.

randall.king@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @FreepKing

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Randall King

Randall King
Reporter

In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.