Newbie director/ writer James Garner zooms in the struggle of young teenager Sarah Taylor (Liv Hill) having to take on burdens far beyond her age. Jellyfish zooms in on disconcerting situations of parental neglect, poverty and underage prostitution and submerses them deep in awkward humour with a background of the Kentish seaside town of Margate.
Amongst the middle class, down from London visitors who frequent the town’s faded glamour, the Turner Contemporary and the artisanal cafes and pubs there are cracks of seedy undercurrents of gambling arcades, dodgy dealings, rampant dryg use and solicitation. This is where we find our Sarah, at just 15 is having to look after her younger siblings, from feeding, bathing to school drops, look after every aspect of the the household as well as look after her mum who is permamnetly zonked out in bed, rendered helpless by clinical depression unable to even muster the tiniest of trips to the job centre to pick up her benefit cheque. Sarah has to attend school herself and make it straight to work after at the arcade in the afternoons where she secretly giving hand jobs to old men to supplement her earnings. It’s not till the drama teacher at school spots her razor-sharp one-liners in retaliation of any attempts of her fellow students to put her down, that he encourages her to do stand-up.
Injecting humour into situations, isnt always attributed to the stand up but the rat-race that Sarahs finds herself immersed. Garner effectively balances the comedy with the tragedy when matters come to head in Sarah’s life, her erratic mother awakes and behaves predicatbly irresponsibly, social services are knocking at the door, her boss at the arcades discovers of her discrepancy at work and proceeds to rape her and she is having to prepare and perform her stand-up at a local talent show.
Hill is impressive as Sarah,her character has tremendous inner stealth, she gives her a befitting ‘grin and bear it’ bravado, fully aware of the horror the situation but grown up enough to know that needs must and through the stand-up is able to express the bitterness and anger against a world that only condemns but doesn’t help.
There are some nagging snippets here and there, mostly centred around the scenes with Sarah’s mother played by Sinead Matthews. Despite Matthew's worthy portrayal, some of the scenes of her surfacing from comatise state to reveal an immature and erratic matriarch figure intermittendtly feel over explained and unnecessary.
However the film's witty dialogue, clever camera angles and Hill’s superb performance gives great promise of Gardner’s directorial flair with a debut that succeeds to cut above the rest of plethora of low budget indie clutter released every year.
Jellyfish is out now.
Words by Daniel Theophanous @danny_theo_.
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