Sophia Silver explores the growing pains of adolescence in her moving coming-of-age drama Over/Under.
Over/Under, directed by Sophia Silver, follows two friends, Violet West (Emajean Bullock) and Stella Steinberg (Anastasia Lee), as they begin to navigate the world of adolescence. Reunited every summer in New England, each passing year brings new challenges for them both. But is their friendship strong enough to survive it all? Over/Under is based on the lives of director Silver and her co-writer/best friend Sianni Rosenstock. Through the fictionalised versions of themselves, they hope to ignite the viewer’s ‘reflect[ion] on their own experience during this delicate time in life.’ Over/Under is an extremely personal story that captures the corruption of innocence, despite feeling somewhat disjointed at times.
When we first meet Violet and Stella, they exist in a world of soft-focus and high saturation, emulating the feeling of comfort and warmth many of us associate with our childhood. Their lives revolve around their rituals, such as catching morning moths, spying on people that frequent the nudist beach nearby and counting down from one thousand to help each other fall asleep. However, as the girls grow older, and spend their lives apart during the school year, they begin to feel the strains of growing up. Here, Silver touches on some of the universal issues that are experienced amongst young girls. Even at the age of thirteen, beauty standards are enforced, and a hierarchy starts to form based on one’s prettiness.
Although Violet and Stella have always been viewed as equals, when Violet starts to develop earlier, she attracts the attention of the popular girls who wear make-up and kiss boys. At thirteen, Violet is barely recognisable to Stella. Considerable strain is put on their friendship as they can no longer relate to each other. This is only made worse by the complicated relationships that surround them. Violet struggles for the attention of her preoccupied father and Stella wrestles with the emotions of having a sick mother. As they navigate these hardships, we see Stella’s decline from innocence, summarised in a simple statement shared with her father: ‘I know mermaids aren’t real.’ As Sophia Silver puts it, ‘at its core, Over/Under is a love story,’ which is frequently proven by Over/Under’s observation of the shifts that occur within these relationships and the malleability of love.
Nonetheless, at times if feels like Silver has tried to do too much within the 88-minute runtime of her debut film. Whether or not Sianni’s mother had cancer in real life, this addition feels out of place in Over/Under. Beyond an emotional scene between Stella and her father (Adam David Thompson), her mother’s cancer story is hardly acknowledged. Admittedly, Over/Under is not about Rachel Steinberg’s (Madeline Wise) battle with cancer, but when Stella is twelve, Rachel is suddenly cured and nothing more is said about it, making the whole arc seem out of place and underdeveloped. The same can be said for Violet’s parents. On the edge of divorce, their arguments cause Violet great distress. However, the parents come across as starkly two dimensional and fail to elicit any emotional response from the audience, making it difficult to sympathise with Violet and her familial struggles.
Unfortunately, this leaves Over/Under feeling fractured and distracts from the issues felt universally by young girls, and instead makes some moments of Over/Under feel too personal. At times, it felt like if you weren’t specifically Silver or Rosenstock, you couldn’t relate to the characters who represent them. Nonetheless, Over/Under is overall a heart-warming and moving film that proves director Sophia Silver is one to watch, but as often is the case with directorial debuts, Over/Under feels like it needs some finer tuning.
Over/Under had its world premiere at the San Francisco Film Festival on Saturday, April 30, 2022.