Sarah Taylor’s world is no joke. Only 15, she’s already mother and father to her younger siblings, carer for her manic-depressive mother, a bullied schoolgirl and trapped in a soul-draining part-time job in the local arcade – oh, and she has to perform the occasional sex act just to keep her home’s electricity on. So, naturally, Miss Taylor has some seriously repressed feelings and no outlet. That is until her drama teacher, Mr Hale (played to perfection by Cyril Nri), demands that she develop an act for her class graduation’s theatre showcase. He doesn’t know or care what it is but, after he hears Sarah let rip on her fellow students, it becomes clear that this tragic teenager has a gift for caustic stand-up. Sending Sarah away with a list of comedians to study, Mr Hale unlocks a talent and a passion that will finally let this young girl reveal all and take centre stage.
Making his directorial debut, co-writer James Gardner presents Sarah’s mundane Margate misery in almost documentary-style tones: it’s lifeless, unromantic, which allows the fierce and fragile shades of his protagonist and the rest of the cast to shine through. The film has some humorous and harrowing frames and Gardner manages to handle them with brutal honesty and a powerful respect.
Owning every scene, rising star Liv Hill certainly delivers a memorable performance as Sarah, worthy of all the attention and nominations she’s been receiving. Special mention also has to go to a brilliant Sinéad Matthews who is beyond exasperating as her hellishly erratic mother Karen; she gives it her all during those moments of toxic abuse, and throughout their heartbreaking role-reversed relationship.
The heroic arc of a downtrodden soul who rises up against all the odds has been seen many times and whilst Jellyfish doesn’t really break new ground, it manages to draw plenty of fresh empathy for young Sarah’s plight. So when the predictable if open ending plays out, the audience understands and appreciates the monumental achievement and life-changing risk an empowered Sarah has just taken.
Jellyfish is released in select cinemas on 15th February 2019.
Watch the trailer for Jellyfish here: