Netflix UK film review: Rocks (2019)
Leslie Byron Pitt | On 06, Oct 2020
Director: Sarah Gavron
Cast: Bukky Bakray, Kosar Ali, D’angelou Osei Kissiedu, Shaneigha-Monik Greyson
Watch Rocks online in the UK: Netflix UK
From the start, Sarah Gavron’s Rocks shows its charm. A group of inner-city teenage girls of varying cultures stand on a rooftop. The banter flows between the group. Vibing to the music emitting from their mobiles, they talk about visiting The Shard. One claims to have already been with her boyfriend. The scepticism from the others is quietly humorous. They talk and joke like they have not a care in the world. When the film draws its focus to its titular character, Rocks, we realise that this world, miles away from leafy suburbs, can hold deep concerns.
Rocks (Bukky Bakray) lives with her younger brother, Emmanuel (D’angelou Osei Kissiedu), and her mother in one of London’s many tower blocks. Life is more manageable than comfortable. Suddenly, Rocks’ mother leaves the children abruptly, leaving them to fend for themselves. An odyssey begins in which Rocks goes to great lengths to try and maintain the structure that she has with her brother.
Despite remaining light throughout most of its breezy running time, Rocks is a film that neatly highlights what occurs in a system of dwindling options. In an early scene, Rocks and her friends discuss their subject choices and future employment opportunities at school. A character mentions that she wants to be a lawyer. Her teacher, unintentionally, downplays her hopes, stating the grades needed to improve and that it is always worth having a plan B. The camera focuses on the girl’s discouraged face in medium close-up as this is mentioned. Her first choice gets pushed away from her. The idea of a second choice is mentioned but never in detail. It feels that she will never be made aware of that second option.
Rocks is no Ken Loach film. The film does not yell statements at the same frequency of socio-political dramas. But sequences and segments deftly provide insight into a system that shows diminishing returns and limited options to those who perhaps need the most support. When Rocks’ mother leaves without warning, the film informs us that this has happened previously. It never labours on the fact, nor does it need to; the film is smart enough to let the audience fill in the gaps.
As a coming-of-age tale, Rocks is earnest in its portrayal. The aspect ratio sometimes switches to that of a mobile phone camera, complete with Snapchat filters, establishing the point of view from which the younger generation may view the world. The performances are raw, missing the drama school polish that can so often make a film like this ring false. The girl’s vernacular never felts scripted or forced. The situations that occur feel plausible, with the various family bubbles that appear feeling lived-in.
What makes Rocks tick is displaying an honest representation of diverse cultures on screen. One significant moment highlights the family of Rocks’ best friend, Sumaya (Kosar Ali). With Barkhad Abdi’s pirate captain in Captain Phillips being one of the most notable Somali characters on-screen in recent times, to have Gavron zero in on a more gentle portrayal of a Somali family is substantial, though they may not spend the most time on screen.
Rocks herself is a refreshing protagonist. A character miles away from the typical inner-city aggression often seen in similar films of this nature, Bukky Bakray’s sensitive performance reveals the kind of young, black British female protagonist sorely missing in cinema. It is a display that emphasises the complexity of having to navigate mixed culture, poverty and womanhood, all the while being a young teenager who merely wants to have fun.
There is fun to had in Rocks. Gavron’s piece is, at times, as funny as it is sensitive. So much of its joy is captured in a somewhat impromptu seaside journey late on, smiles and exploration taken for granted by those who have the accessibility to hand. The simple pleasures and banter expressed by the girls in Rocks relay a sincerity that is sorely needed from these types of on-screen portrayals, but rarely seen. Rocks shows that even a world of dwindling options, these girls will still rise to the occasion.
Rocks is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £9.99 monthly subscription.