The Selfish Giant Movie Review
Inventive British filmmaker Barnard takes on Oscar Wilde's children's story with the same artistic creativity that made her previous film, the edgy drama-doc The Arbor, such a triumph. But this isn't a movie for kids; it's about them. And it's such a provocative combination of gritty reality and youthful energy that it's sometimes difficult to watch. Especially as the shattering finale approaches.
Set on the grubby edges of Bradford, the story centres on fast-talking young teen Arbor (Chapman), who always seems to be in trouble. When he drags his nice-guy pal Swifty (Thomas) into another crazy scam, they get thrown out of school. But Arbor sees this as an opportunity to use their free time to collect metal to sell to scrapyard owner Kitten (Gilder). For Arbor, his main goal is to get out of his messy house, where he lives with his mum (Manley) and bullying big brother (Tittensor). Swifty's home-life with his shouty parents (Evets and Finneran) isn't much better, and he loves spending time working with with Kitten's prized horse. On the other hand, Arbor keeps coming up with risky ideas to earn more cash.
Barnard is an expert at finding beauty in the ugliest people and places, and this film sometimes feels like it's wallowing in working-class shabbiness. But she gives her uneducated characters a sense of intelligence, artistry and integrity that makes us want to spend time with them even though no one speaks in a reasonable tone of voice. Anger boils over quickly, with screaming rants and violent outbursts, so it feels like life for these people is very difficult, not just economically but also emotionally.
The actors make this utterly riveting with staggeringly honest performances. Chapman gives Arbor a hyperactive charm as he comes up with yet another plan without thinking through the consequences. By contrast, Thomas' Swifty is soulful and thoughtful enough to keep pulling Arbor back to earth. Their relationship makes the film funny, sometimes thrilling and ultimately wrenchingly emotional. This may be a grim parable about human desperation, but it's packed with an unforgettable blast of youthful hope.