AFI Film Festival AW Kautzer's Film Review Film

Rocks – AFI Film Fest 2019 Review


Harrowing isn’t the word for what the title character Rocks experiences in this astute drama.

Director Sarah Gavron gives us a sobering look at bad decisions and inexperience of a teenage female put into an impossible situation.  Rocks may show us the harrowing but never forgets that those in-between moments of vital life. 

Olushola aka Rocks (Bukky Bakray) is your average teenage female.  She loves her friends.  Takes care of her brother, Emmanuel (Dangelou Osei Kissiedu).  Helps her Mother.  Aspires to do makeup professionally.  All of this averageness is upended when her mother abandons her because “she can’t handle it”.  Rocks fearing separation from her brother and the hope beyond hope that this is another one of her Mother’s “vacations” attempts to keep her and her brother afloat. As the hope diminishes her mother is ever coming back Rock makes increasingly dangerous decisions. 

Rocks has enough anxiety-inducing behavior to make any audience member shout at the screen in hopes that the main character will hear any sort of reason.  Many will find her actions off-putting to the point of anger and frustration.  That is the point, though.  Rocks is a child making decisions that even the most seasoned of adults would have difficulty with.  Part of the beauty, the horror, of the film is that there is no savior moment.  There is no right choice either.  Just compounding of terrible decisions and the cost, eg human wreckage, left behind because Rocks’ mother abandoned her responsibility to a child.

Gavron and screenwriters Theresa Ikoko and Claire Wilson have created a film that feels authentic in the best way possible.  Though the final moments feel a bit too concocted rather than organic, they are able to make a nervy film that feels more honest than most films about teens.  Gavron creates a film that never judges Rocks only shows us her actions and the consequence of those actions.

In a genre rife with make-believe and fairy tale stories, Rocks gives us a film about real teenagers and real issues. They may make a mess of things but Gavron and Company never lay judgment.  Rather the film poises to make one understand Rocks and her friends.  In a film community that often discusses acceptance and understanding, but rarely produces it, Rocks has more than enough to spare.

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