This pitch perfect evocation of teenage life (specially teenage girls and primarily people of colour) ends with this statement in the credits:
‘The cast and many other young Londonds collaborated with the writers and filmmakers to create the characters and world of our film.’
This collaborative approach, an ethos further enforced by the want to proclaim this in the credits, truly pays dividends in this superb film. This is one of the most fresh, vital and accurate depictions of being a teenager on film. It especially focuses on those who are struggling to get by, casting a spotlight on working class London and the multifaceted stories that exists behind every child.
Rocks works as a slice-of-life, with a dash of coming-of-age, film as well as an incisive social critique. This is a dynamic and witty film in which the narrative bends round the characters. From the very first scene, where a group of young girls are just interacting, everything just feels real. The cinematic craft only adds to this, it remains unobtrusive but has a real energy. It never feels like staged cinematography, it always feels realist, but it is still beautiful. There are sublime compositions and such terrifically framed shots but in a way that never draws attention to itself. This kind of subtle beauty, a background beauty, a cinematic approach that perfectly mirrors the thrust of the film. The cinematic glory of Rocks feels almost incidental, the kind of thing that creeps up on you but is always there in the background. It is a perfect choice for a film that explores the rich background lives of teenage girls – and the substance that exists beyond a facade.
To begin with, Rocks just evokes – and it is perfect at this. As previously mentioned, the film seems to bounce off of the characters. There is a clear narrative here, but we do not feel guided or led, it comes very naturally. The film is so much more interested in spending time with its characters and giving them a voice, this links back to its genesis as a collaborative project and – for the type of film this is, a socio realist portrait – this is just brilliant. However, the richness that exists in every character and relationship does allow Rocks to take on a number of weighty themes in a very delicate, but profound, manner. When it deals with these themes, it never feels preachy or expository, they just naturally extend out of the characters. There is so much room for the audience here, though, as the delicate balance of weighty topics and character moments allows for so much reflection and thought. It is all so carefully, and lovingly, woven together so that it provides such impressive observations and conclusions, while always feeling effortless.
The real strength of Rocks, and it has so many strengths, is how it shows the unknown, unseen stories behind everyday people. We follow protagonist Rocks, as she tries to look after her younger brother after her mother has left. We oscillate between school life and home life, and through this we see an amazing contrast. The school life is evoked so perfectly, and feels so real, and the behaviours exhibited are so usual. Yet we see what is happening behind all of this, the ultimate message here being about how difficult the experiences of all of our young people could be, and that we would never know. Rocks shows how easy it is to judge; how easy it is to never reach potential (there are so many scenes here geared around, in a way that never feels artificial, shows of potential); how easy it is to fall through the cracks and then how woefully insufficient the systems we have in place are to deal with these things.
Rocks is a people first film. It has the most astounding cast who create the most astounding characters. It all feels so real and so deeply collaborative, and is therefore able to harness such truth. This film feels as vital and important to British cinema, especially regarding female representation – and working class representation – as the early films of Clio Barnard and Andrea Arnold. In fact, this is also a wonderful companion to Sciamma’s Girlhood – and is completely its equal. This is a beautiful film, an accessible film and a profoundly political and artistic achievement. It is easily one of the best films of the year and, to put it bluntly, films like Rocks are why cinema exists. There is so much truth here and so much humanity, it is a wonderfully specific evocation of very particular lives and, by capturing this so perfectly, it ends up being so universal and beautiful.