4 Star Double Feature – Coming of Age Flicks

Starter for 10 (2006)

The cast boasts the likes of James McAvoy, Benedict Cumberbatch, Rebecca Hall, Alice Eve, and even James Corden all in one film together! The year is 1985 and Brian is off to his first year at university which turns into a formative moment in his life of new experiences, romantic entanglements, and, yes, even trivia. He’s really good at trivia. But sometimes being good at trivia still cannot prepare you for the things that life throws at you. That’s what makes life, life and not a game show as he finds out.

Sing Street (2016)

Also set in 1985 but in this case in Dublin, Sing Street is a high school coming of age story about a boy who forms a band to get a girl. It’s a simple premise but John Carney’s film explores much of the turbulence as well as the glories of that time in life. It’s about love and music and personal exploration. It also happens to be a darn good musical with a steady stream of catchy 80s tunes both real and fictional.

Atonement (2007)

atone2Without any prior knowledge and given what we know to begin with, it looks like Atonement will be a love story revolving around the characters of Keira Knightley and James McAvoy. They are, after all, the big stars in this WWII era romance based on the Ian McEwan novel. We expect to become enraptured in their passionate love affair that is to be indubitably broken up by war. However, it becomes evident very quickly that this is really a tale about a young girl  and budding author, played through the years in succession by  Saoirse Ronan, Romola Garai, and Vanessa Redgrave. It is her point of view and her part in this narrative that becomes most important, although we do not have any indication as to why to begin with.

So in front of the peering eyes of Briony Tallis, her older sister Cecilia (Knightley) and the son of the family housekeeper Robbie Turner (McAvoy) start something which Briony cannot fully comprehend and understand. What is it that is really going on around her? An intricate manipulation of time and place begins, relating the story from a number of perspectives, but always returning to Briony. How does Cecilia really feel towards Robbie, who is in a sense below her, but still proud? Briony knows she has feelings for the housekeeper’s son, but how is she to react when she finds her sister and Robbie crammed up against the bookcases together. Then, when a pair of pesky twins goes missing a search party begins. Again Briony sees something that she cannot fully understand, and yet she makes a judgment that will unwittingly tear apart two lives. There is constantly an inquisitiveness, a confusion in her expressions that is absolutely spot on.  And in these moments the score is suffocating with its pounding, clanging, and banging.

atone3Robbie gets sent away, torn from his love Cecilia, and Britain is on the brink of war. When the two lovers finally get a chance to see each other, he has joined the army in order to be released from prison, and she is working as a nurse.  But it’s a heartbreaking separation because although the passage of time is condensed for us, we can easily see the reserved, hesitant quality in both of them. How are they supposed to react? It’s difficult to hold onto the same feelings, maintain the same type of passion when you’re separated by the years. Cee reaches out to touch his hand, and he avoids her slightly. You cannot exactly blame him, but there is a tinge of sympathy for her.

But their romance is quickly renewed and heightened once more in a matter of days, only to have the war this time pull them apart. And it’s something that’s very hard to rebound from. Robbie ends up in the middle of France and when he finally discovers the coast with a couple of comrades they come across all the forces at Dunkirk getting ready to retreat. For those engaged with WWII history, Dunkirk was in one sense a wounding blow to the English ego, but also a testament to their resilience. The men are beaten and battered, but escape the Nazi onslaught to fight another day. And yet we don’t see the fighting. With a wonderfully dynamic tracking shot director Joe Wright gives us an eye into the tired and wounded masses. And it’s somber, chilling, melancholy, and still strikingly beautiful in the same instance.

atone5Back home, Briony is now working in a hospital almost as penitence for wrongs and soon the hospital is inundated with wounded from the retreat. She is quickly thrown into action comforting a dying French soldier with a penchant for the soft refrains of Debussy. Then, comes the pivotal confrontation where Briony, now older, faces her sister who has refused to talk with her. And Robbie is there too. Together they painfully and angrily point out what the young girl had done to both of them. It’s heart-wrenching to the nth degree and yet the final revelation makes it all the more painful.

Now many years down the line, Briony, who is now much older (Redgrave) and an author of 21 books, is interviewed about her final novel Atonement. It lays out the events of the whole film, and she explains her reason for writing such a story. She wrote it to be read by the public certainly, but most importantly she wrote it for Robbie and Cee. To give them closure and the dignity that they deserved.

So you see, it’s the book within the book really or more correctly Ian McEwan writing a novel called Atonement featuring a fictitious version of the same work. In a sense, I do feel manipulated by this film, but do I mind? Not really. I don’t hold it against the film because it tells its story with so much beauty and grace.

4/5 Stars

Starter for 10 (2006)

215px-Starter_for_tenOftentimes I get my greatest excitement not simply from the masterpieces I get to discover, but also hidden gems that get unearthed along the way. This one just happens to have some of Britain’s best talent. Starter for 10 is a coming-of-age film which immediately sets off a number of ideas in one’s head, and it has most of what you expect in that department. However, it also has an astounding plethora of young British talent. The list of names is as follows: James McAvoy, Alice Eve, Rebecca Hall, Benedict Cumberbatch, Dominic Cooper, and even James Corden.

The heart of this film is Brian Jackson a college-aged kid, who grows up wanting to be clever and he has a passion for trivia because he always wants to learn more and he spent some formative moments in front of the telly with his now deceased dad. Now in 1985, he gets ready to leave his mother (Catherine Tate) and head off for new experiences at Bristol University. But she’s not the only one he leaves behind. His friends Tone and Spencer are not as ambitious as him, but he promises not to forget them.

Still, when he gets to college, he’s excited for the new challenges ahead and although his first acquaintances are rather odd, he does meet the winsome girl Rebecca Epstein (Rebecca Hall), who has an affinity for political protests. Soon he’s quick to join the University Challenge quiz team anchored by a very stuffy post-grad (Benedict Cumberbatch) but that’s not all. He also gets his first encounter with the posh girl with a gorgeous figure (Alice Eve). He’s immediately smitten with this new quiz kid and for good reason.

But what follows is all the drama that one would expect. The pitter-patter of his beating fragile heart as he dreams of days with the beautiful Alice. It even manifests itself in a dinner date and a rather awkward New Years with her parents. But then there’s Rebecca too. She’s brilliant as well and he has to figure out what he’s doing. Mixing up names on New Year’s Eve is not the best plan, but of course, that’s what happens.

His best friend Spencer (Dominic Cooper) comes to visit and that fosters more turmoil than Bri would like with the old world intersecting with the new. He’s confused and apathetic about the University Challenge by now. Everything goes wrong before the big day of the final competition and to top it all off Brian messes things up in a big way that leaves him dejected. He cannot even face his team now. Early on Brian latched onto the idea that knowledge is the key to being happy, not a job that you might hate. Although that can be true, it seems he slowly realizes that there’s even more to happiness than knowledge. If that’s all you have, you’re probably not going to be all that content. You see, he’s certainly clever, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t do some stupid things and make some big mistakes. Don’t we all, and otherwise, this could not be a coming-of-age story full of discovery, confusion, and love.

It’s a bad metaphor, I know, but do you want the Marilyn Monroe blond bombshell or the sweet Audrey Hepburn brunette? Everyone has their proclivity, but Brian seems to make the right choice because he doesn’t go with the outward appearance, he goes with the one with a depth of character and the ability to forgive. That’s big.

There’s a formula being followed certainly, but it’s easy to look past that and enjoy Starters for 10 for its heartfelt performances and simply the good fun it brings to the table. The names attached to the picture were slowly on the rise and it’s impressive to see how far their careers have taken them.

3.5/5 Stars