Side by Side
Saturday 12th October, 3.45pm – BFI Southbank, NFT 3
Part pilgrimage, part sentimental coming of age story, Side by Side is beautifully shot and occasionally highly touching. It’s a shame that it only comes into its own towards the end, the beginning frustratingly wooden and seemingly purposeless except to enable the initially overly hurried plot development.
Lauren (Bel Powley) and her brother Harvey (Alfie Field) both initially seem uncomfortable in their roles – however they eventually settle in and strengthen along with their characters. Lauren’s unscrupulous agent, Janice, coerces her into accepting an athletic scholarship, resulting in a confusingly instantaneous threat of separation.
Diana Quick beautifully portrays their mentally deteriorating grandmother, Joan. Loyalty to her and terror of being fostered leads to Harvey running away to bring Joan’s long lost husband home; Lauren chases him and they embark on a chaotic journey to Scotland, pursued by Janice and her insipid daughter. This spins wildly out of control and enables both siblings to resurrect a buried familial bond. Lauren and Harvey begin to relax into the childish roles long denied to them, and the acting improves no end. As Harvey shouts at Lauren when she tries to force him into going along with what she is trying to see as an essential separation for the good of their family: “What can I say? I am a child!”
Seeing performances strengthen as characters realise the true value of family and their own individual potential gives the film a power that seemed unlikely to materialise at the beginning. They inevitably fail to find their grandfather, but the point is that it’s the journey itself that’s important: “The answers have a habit of finding you”, they’re told by a man who handily drives them most of the way to Scotland before disappearing like the plot device he was. It’s a shame he wasn’t further developed, but that can be said for several aspects to the film.
The ending is disappointing in part as a fresh lead on the grandfather materialises –taking away from the powerful message that the future and present are what matter. Sacrifice, bravery and ferocious love pull Side by Side together, and there are thankfully enough powerful merits to the film to distract from the irritatingly avoidable flaws.
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