Perfect 10 is the debut feature by Eva Riley, concerning a troubled teenager, Leigh (Frankie Box), whose world is further turned upside down with appearance of an unknown stepbrother, Joe (Alfie Deegan). Like in her previous work, such as the impeccably shot short film Diagnosis (about a medical role-play actress who comes to term with love loss), Perfect 10 is an exploration of female characters with an unrivalled inner strength, excessive chutzpah and an unabashedly non-conformist nature.
The sudden introduction of Joe into the household sees Leigh violently resisting his presence at first. Slowly Joe’s demands for attention and penchant for petty crime become an appealing diversion from her own seclusion, with no friends in sight, an absent mother and an emotionally unavailable father (William Ash). A distraction, too, from her waning interest in gymnastics, which previously provided her with great solace.
As Leigh increasingly becomes enamoured by the thrilling anarchy and her newfound sibling camaraderie, Joe’s familiarity is inevitably misinterpreted as a mesh of fatherly affection and the object of her desire. This is a turn of events we see coming, but which Riley treads over delicately, effectively portraying this as a natural inclination deriving from abandonment and a dire need of a human connection, rather than something more sinister.
At face value, Perfect 10 is a collage of filmic references. It is heavily reminiscent of Andrea Arnold’s Fish Tank, albeit lighter in tone, particularly in studying how an adolescent seeks rebellion in extreme behaviour, against a backdrop of poverty and familial neglect. But it is also a character study, akin to Eliza Hittman’s It Felt Like Love, where a young girl faces ridicule by her peers for being audaciously unshy of her bourgeoning desires.
Box is undoubtedly the film’s highlight. Impressively, all the athletics we see are her own. She effortlessly carries the film with a very natural performance, engaging eloquently with the gamut of emotions that course through a hormonal teenager. The banter between her and Joe is endearing, even if Deegan‘s portrayal at points feels overacted; the machismo gangster gusto, perhaps in a bid to overcome the limitations of his slight frame, is slightly overbearing.
There is a certain opaqueness to everything outside Leigh: the cause of her mother’s absence, her father’s emotional incapability or the maternal guidance of her trainer Gemma (Sharlene Whyte). The loose background information has the side effect of muting the severity of her trauma – the impetus to seek escape in Joe’s criminal activities feels a tad unrealistic.
Yet through the moments of blurriness and implausibility, overall this is a beautifully shot, tender film, offering a positive perspective on the usual dreary ending that prevails with such British indie films; a young girl’s sweet triumph over personal adversity.
Perfect 10 is released in select cinemas and on Curzon Home Cinema on 7th August 2020.
Watch the trailer for Perfect 10 here: