Justine

 

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An imperfect yet decidedly worthwhile film centred on two young women.

 
Justine 

Xavien Russell and Tallulah Haddon

 

Born in 1986 in Brighton and still based there, Jamie Patterson has been prolific since making his first film back in 2011. The work of his that has been most widely seen was his 2017 feature Tucked and that was when I became aware of him. I described him then as a director of talent and someone capable of getting the best out of his actors (that film contained a career-best performance from Derren Nesbitt) but I did have reservations about the effectiveness of Patterson's screenplay. My review could have been taken as a hint to work with another writer, and that is what he has done in his latest piece, Justine. The writing credit goes to Jeff Murphy but several other contributors to Tucked have been retained, notably the editor David Fricker, the photographer Paul O'Callaghan and the composer Richey Rynkowski. However, there is an irony there because, while I feel that Justine confirms the talents of Patterson and his regular colleagues, I find myself with the same reservation as before: the quality of the film is higher than that of the screenplay.

 

Once again Patterson sets his film in his home town and its environs and this is handled with real flair as illustrated by the direction, the editing and the photography. There is no actor who stands out to the extent that Nesbitt did yet the players set a high standard. The title role is taken by Tallulah Haddon and the film feels very authentic in its portrait of a young woman who, still a student, lives a rootless life and has no confidence in what the future holds for her. At this particular time the impact of Covid-19 may make such feelings not uncommon, but Justine takes place before the virus emerged and Justine's situation is in part the result of an unhappy childhood. It's one that has led to estrangement from her reasonably well-off family, to depression linked to drugs and alcohol and to shoplifting to get by, despite which her rent is in arrears. Not surprisingly she now has an obligation to report regularly to a probation officer (Sian Reece-Williams).

 

All of this is presented most persuasively just as Brighton's gay scene was the convincing backdrop in Tucked. Sexuality is again significantly relevant here since Justine is a lesbian and the one bright spot in her life grows out of a meeting that she has with Rachel (Sophie Reid) who is about to start out on a teaching career. There is a chance here for a deep relationship (in time Rachel is even ready to suggest that Justine should travel with her to Barcelona where she has been offered a teaching post). But the question is whether or not Justine can face up to the challenge of a new life when her inner demons are still capable of asserting themselves destructively.

 

Given the naturalistic style of the drama, it is questionable whether the occasional use of soundtrack songs to comment on the situation as it unfolds really fits. But the main issue, not fatal but rather undermining for all that, relates to the writing. A scene between Justine and her mother (Kirsty Dillon) doesn't feel quite real and that can also be said of some other passages too. As for the final scene it may avoid the sentimentality that marred the conclusion of Tucked but the ultimate fate of the central relationship seems oddly inconclusive due to not being examined fully. It's as though the filmmakers want to take a positive view but can't quite find a way to express it convincingly. Regardless of such doubts, Patterson enhances his reputation with this film.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Tallulah Haddon, Sophie Reid, Sian Reese-Williams, Xavien Russell, Kirsty Dillon, Steve Oram, Ramesh Nair, Nathan Ariss, Dave Mounfield, Judith Sweeting.

 

Dir Jamie Patterson, Pro Sarah Drew, Jamie Patterson, Julius G.Beltrame and Jason Rush, Screenplay Jeff Murphy, Ph Paul O'Callaghan, Pro Des Christoph J. Hearn, Ed David Fricker, Music Richey Rynkowski, Costumes Kelly Michele.

 

Rush Productions/Jump Start Productions/Fiction Factory-Bulldog Film Distribution.
81 mins. UK. 2021. Rel: 5 March 20121. Available on VOD. Cert. 15.