The Movie Waffler New Release Review - GIRL | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - GIRL

New Release Review - GIRL
An immigrant struggles to follow her daughter's lead in adapting to life in Glasgow.

Review by Blair MacBride

Directed by: Adura Onashile

Starring: Déborah Lukumuena, Danny Sapani, Le'Shantey Bonsu, Liana Turner

Girl poster

Highlighting an incredibly timely issue, this tale of an African mother and daughter navigating their new life in Scotland is an intriguing affair.

Adura Onashile's directorial feature debut is set in Glasgow. 25 year old Grace (Deborah Lukumuena) and her 11 year old "daughter" Ama (Le'Shantay Bonsu) live on an aging council estate, having moved from the country of their birth to escape an unidentified trauma.

Girl review

Grace remains seriously troubled by the past throughout her restless days and unsettled nights as a shopping centre cleaner. She evidently suffers with PTSD from the disturbing events that have befallen her, to the point where she is often left in a paralysed state both mentally and physically. At the same time, having always previously been by Grace's side, Ama begins to come of age in her new surroundings as she goes back to school and makes friends with mischievous Fiona (Liana Turner). In turn, Grace struggles to balance her existing mental health issues alongside new found anxieties about Ama growing up. This creates a relentlessly unstable home environment for them both, but more importantly, almost threatens the pair's entire relationship.

It can't be denied that Girl has a lot going for it. Onashile does a stellar job at crafting a really gripping narrative for a feature debut, and her ability to have built such an engaging slow burner is not only commendable, but it's also very gratifying to watch unfold. Indeed, in the film's early stages, the pair's flat is the key location and acts as a sanctuary, particularly for Grace. It is through Ama's view of Glasgow, though, where we begin to see the notions of change emerge between them.

While Grace likes to live as a near recluse, seeing the flat as a safe haven where she can remain unbothered and unchallenged in her authority, Ama uses the advantages of her new home in a different way. While her "mother" is at work in the small hours of the morning, Ama uses a pair of binoculars to scan her new surroundings and horizons on offer from the balcony - cleverly indicating the different directions both are heading in, and ergo their changing relationship. These picturesque shots over the city also feature the luminous magic of Tasha Back's cinematography. Often shown in cinema as a grainy, dark and gritty city, Glasgow is given a colourful neon glow here and throughout, offering a really warm alternative aesthetic.

Girl review

In terms of performances, Lukumuena is wonderful in her portrayal of Grace. She excels in her first English language speaking role, and effortlessly captivates the audience with her depiction of the character's growing paranoia and complex issues. Moreover, with the obvious sympathy one feels for Grace to one side, we're left seething at her efforts to continuously isolate her family-of-two and reject the help she's offered to get on a stable footing; these emotions being largely and unequivocally evoked as a result of Lukumuena's accomplished work. Other standouts include novices Bonsu and Turner, with the former exceeding any expectations, faultlessly portraying Ama's conflict of wanting to please her "mother," but simultaneously seeking a perfectly natural adolescence in her new city with the company of her new friend.

Regrettably, however, this feature's potentially memorable eminence quickly unravels towards its final stages. From the get go, Onashile has a clear intent to limit mentioning key aspects relating to her two protagonists' story, leaving it up to the audience to draw their own conclusions. Now, certain levels of ambiguity are understandable. To some even, this may offer mystique and a certain allure. To others, though, it's so blatantly irksome, let alone after an hour and 10 minutes laced with sporadic flashbacks: there's absolutely no pay off. Had Onashile avoided planting the seed of an obvious trauma which had transpired, it would make far more sense - whatever came before mattered not, and instead, we were to focus on the present. But making it a central part of the character's story arc and ultimately leaving it in the end, properly sticks in the craw. Additionally, on a technical issue, the last 15 minutes of the film are audio mixed awfully. In the closing scenes, it's near impossible to make out what's being said, and at such a crucial juncture, this has to be better.

Girl review

That said, the biggest issue which takes the biscuit in Girl is Grace's sudden change of heart. The realisation of her own wrongdoing in closing off the rest of the world to Ama and herself is perplexingly instantaneous. Squarely lying on the shoulders of Onashile as both writer and director, the culmination of such early promise is deflating, and isn't befitting of such a strong narrative. The viewer is quite bizarrely left in the dark about what are made to feel like crucial plot points.

Consequently, it has to be said that Girl adds a new layer to the Scottish cinema scene by showcasing both a diversification of stories, and their skilful tellers as well. Nevertheless, this really gripping slow burner ends up falling short of its early promise.

Girl is in UK cinemas from November 24th.

2023 movie reviews