Perfect 10, director/writer Eva Riley’s debut feature, is an assuredly shot and well-acted teen drama with unpretentious intentions and accessible stakes.
As the teen-indie drama genre inflates at an unquantifiable pace, it’s become increasingly difficult to find original experiences amongst the repetition. Perfect 10 feels consciously aware of this growing disparity, accepting the challenge of originality with an unpretentious and unfussy attitude. Introductions and stakes are brief and upfront: Leigh (Frankie Box) is a young gymnast struggling to finish and perfect her competition routine. Though her coach, Gemma (Sharlene Whyte), is devoted and supportive, Leigh is still silently reeling from the death of her mother, frustrated by her inattentive father, and unrelentingly distracted by the preppy bullies of her advanced training program. Spurring Leigh’s journey towards self-confidence is the unexpected arrival of her half-brother, Joe (Alfie Deegan), whose criminal meddling and shirtless bravado immediately endears himself to her. Soon the two are committing petty crimes together, growing closer as siblings and friends.
If this all sounds fairly par for the course in terms of conveyed themes and opportunities for character growth, it’s because it mostly is. Yet, Riley’s script does deserve acknowledgement for being impressively stripped. Absent are potential repetitive narrative trappings of the genre: revealing fake friendships, grandiose and unproblematic reconciliations, unlimited sympathy, and clean resolutions. Matching Riley’s curated scripting is cinematographer Steven Cameron Ferguson, whose lens focuses and highlights the miniscule details of Leigh’s populated world. Close up shots dominate, the camera alternating rapidly between the mouthed insults of Leigh’s peers, lingering on Joe’s uneasy face during crimes, and at all times conveying the subtle ways that Leigh attempts to distract herself from life.
In similar fashion to other teen dramas that fixate on or tangentially address crime, Leigh is quickly drawn into the world. Under pressure to meet competition fees, Leigh continually involves herself in Joe’s plans, simultaneously siphoning confidence off the adrenaline rush of crime. Thankfully, Riley keeps the proceedings from spiraling out of proportion, leaving Perfect 10 to occupy the peculiar and less well-defined space of middle-class crime dramas. There’s no significant depravity or drastic spikes in toxicity akin tofilms in relative proximity- Mid90s, American Honey, or Florida Project. Thus, while a Perfect 10 is inevitably neutered by its lower dramatic plateau, it’s also exceedingly amplified by its inviting accessibility. Yes, this leaves Riley’s debut at an awkward intersection between other experiences that are dirtier, more serious, and featuring characters with a plethora more of ill-intentions, but Perfect 10’s position lends it a more original identity.
As a debut feature, Perfect 10’s script is expectantly lacking in some elements. Yet, it’s an excellent vessel for showcasing the acting talent of its largely new cast. In similar vein to Eighth Grade’s Elsie Fisher, Frankie Box is a talented, upcoming actress to keep tabs on. Sharlene Whyte and Alfie Deegan are also equally praiseworthy: Whyte’s sensitive, yet no-less stern performance and Deegan’s transitions between petulant grunt and boastful sibling serve to amplify and round out Perfect 10’s emotional spectrum. Though its central themes and conflict are fairly routine territory for the genre, Perfect 10 manages to squeeze a noticeably middle-class identity out of its story while also serving as an unabashedly successful career genesis for all involved.
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