Review by Sean Boelman
The coming-of-age tale is a tried-and-true genre, but the reason that filmmakers, especially young ones, keep coming back to it is that everyone experiences what it means to grow up. Jessie Barr’s intensely personal debut Sophie Jones has a few weak moments, but for the most part, it’s a wonderful entry into the genre.
The film tells the story of a teenage girl who experiences a sexual awakening after the death of her mother sends her on a quest to find any sort of connection with another person. Everyone grieves differently, and this shows a very different mourning process from anything that has really been depicted on screen before, but still in a way that is entirely empathetic and humanistic.
What makes this stand out from so many other movies of the genre is its refreshingly down-to-earth approach. The film is never condescending about the decisions she makes, not showing them as mistakes or something that will become a burden to her, but rather things that she had to go through in order to find herself.
That said, the structure shares a lot more in common with a slice-of-life movie than a traditional coming-of-age story, as it is less about forming a conventional arc than depicting the various ups and downs which the protagonist experiences in her life. And while some of the transitions between these vignettes are a bit rough, they work very well for the most part.
The protagonist is definitely very compelling as a character in a way that will feel relatable to a lot of young people, but the supporting characters consist of a bunch of archetypes. It’s clear that the focus is primarily on the eponymous character’s internal journey, but the external forces that affect her, such as her relationship with her family, could have been more developed.
Jessica Barr (co-writer of the film and cousin of Jessie) gives a very naturalistic performance as the lead. Apart from a couple of scenes in which stilted dialogue causes her delivery to feel a bit wooden, she does a great job of capturing the disconnect that the character has with the world around her, which is ultimately what will allow the movie to connect with its audience.
And Jessie Barr shows a lot of talent behind the camera, with a very developed visual style even in her feature debut. At times, the film feels like an exercise in poeticism and aesthetic experimentation with shots that are undeniably gorgeous but don’t have a real purpose other than to look pretty, but the loose narrative structure gives the filmmaker plenty of room to play.
Sophie Jones is the type of indie coming-of-age movie that is built to be accepted by audiences with open arms. It’s approachable enough to be enjoyable and personal enough to be memorable, hitting that perfect balance of originality and familiarity.
Sophie Jones debuted at the 2020 Deauville American Film Festival. It is currently seeking distribution.