The Movie Waffler New to Netflix - ROCKS | The Movie Waffler

New to Netflix - ROCKS

rocks review
When her mother disappears, a teenager fends for herself and her brother.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Sarah Gavron

Starring: Bukky Bakray, Layo-Christina Akinlude, Tawheda Begum, Afi Okaidja, Anastasia Dymitrow, Ruby Stokes

rocks poster

Director Sarah Gavron's previous film, 2015's Suffragette, was largely ill-received by critics who failed to get on board with a movie modelled on the sort of feminist exploitation thrillers made by directors like Jonathan Demme and Stephanie Rothman in the 1970s. Suffragette was a welcome departure from the stuffy 'based on true events' films that usually come out of Britain, and with her latest, Rocks, Gavron is once again thumbing her nose at convention with a movie that depicts working class East London not as a hellhole populated by geezers and gangsters but as a tight knit community where someone always has your back, so long as you're willing to admit you need help.

rocks review

It's in this milieu that we find teenager Olushola (Bukky Bakray), better known by her nickname "Rocks". With her mother, Funke (Layo-Christina Akinlude), often rendered inert by crippling depression, Rocks is well accustomed to looking after both herself and her seven-year-old brother Emmanuel (D'angelou Osei Kissiedu). One day she arrives home from school to find her mother has disappeared and left behind a note claiming she simply can't cope any longer. Rocks searches the neighbourhood but can't find any trace of her mother, or any clues as to where she might have disappeared to.

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As her friends learn of Rocks' troubles, they all try their best to help her out, but Rocks refuses and falls out with them one by one. The motives behind Rocks' stubbornness are never spelled out, leaving us to surmise a variety of reasons. Maybe she's worried that the social workers who keep turning up at her flat (leading Rocks and Emmanuel to sleep on couches and in a dodgy motel) will split herself and her brother apart. Maybe she doesn't want to get her mother in trouble. Maybe she feels as a young black girl she has a point to prove about being able to take care of herself and Emmanuel.

rocks review

Gavron spent a year casting her film from genuine London teenagers, and it wasn't until the cast was in place that Gavron, along with writers Theresa Ikoko and Claire Wilson, began working on a script with dialogue drawn from their experience with the girls they picked. Bakray is a real find in the titular role, balancing her tough facade with a frustration that makes you feel she simply wants to break out in tears at any moment. The film's levity is largely provide by Emmanuel, whose light-hearted "out of the mouths of babes" asides are genuinely hilarious, Osei Kissiedu delivering the most entertaining child performance I've seen since the similarly precocious Alexis Neblett in The Fits. The supporting cast of Rocks' sisterly friends - Tawheda Begum, Afi Okaidja, Anastasia Dymitrow and Ruby Stokes - all boast a rawness that adds to the film's sense that you're simply hanging out with a bunch of teens.

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One of the things I find most moving in films as I grow older is a simple act of human decency, and Rocks is a litany of such acts. If Ken Loach told this story it would likely be a horror show, but in Gavron's hands it's a tale of a city rallying around a person in need, a throwback to post-war London movies like Sidney Gilliatt's London Belongs to Me, in which the residents of a tenement come to the defence of Richard Attenborough when he is accused of an accidental murder. Seeing Rocks' mates - who come from a variety of disparate cultural backgrounds yet are all united by that unique cheekiness that marks someone out as a Londoner - pull together to come to the aid of their buddy in varying ways is genuinely moving.

rocks review

Unlike Loach's films, which purport to be left wing yet ironically demonise the welfare state, Rocks doesn't villainise authority figures. The social workers Rocks spends her time dodging really do have her best interests at heart, as do her friends. Perhaps Rocks is so reticent to let them help because she watched too many doom and gloom movies from Loach and his ilk? It seems strange to say this about a film concerned with child neglect, but Rocks is one of the feelgood movies of the year.

Rocks is on Netflix UK now.

2020 movie reviews