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Never kidnap your idols
A UK region 2 DVD review of KICKS by Timothy E. RAW
 

Full disclosure here, I find it hard enough forcing myself to sit down and watch films of the "grim up north" variety at the best of times, let alone review them. That Lindy Heymann's directorial debut centres around premiership football and the tabloid-baiting topic of WAG culture gave me even greater cause for concern. Still, since the New Wave Films label emerged on DVD at the beginning of 2009 with Joanna Hogg's Hemingway-esque Unrelated, their monthly selection of independent, art house and world cinema has yet to disappoint (yes, even though I gave Wild Grass a stern dressing down a few weeks ago, it is after all an acquired taste. The fact that I was able to write such a lengthy review despite being summarily dismissive must deem it worthy of a certain merit). Buoyed by the label's reliably varied taste I left personal prejudice on the pitch and hoped to find something else I could gravitate towards.

I also don't mind admitting that I love it when I go into a film with knives out in spite of myself, only to be proved resoundingly wrong. If it were up to me, this would-be critic would be made to eat humble pie more often, and what Kicks lacks in a clear throughline, it makes up in both mood and staging. Stylish rather than expectedly squalid, Heymann successfully transplants My Summer of Love's hallucinatory lushness from the Yorkshire dales to the Liverpool docks. The capital of culture has rarely looked more arresting on film; a Pink Floyd album cover brought to desolate, otherworldly life or the purgatory of The Lovely Bones minus the "with cannon you can" CGI. That such a low budget film was able to look quite so good comes as no surprise once you know that Barcelona-born cinematographer Eduard Grau was behind the lens on this one. Shot just before exploding his profile with Tom Ford's A Single Man, the exoticism of Liverpool must surely be a product of Grau's outsider's perspective, unspoiled by cultural cliché.

I'm one of many who've written about this film, noting how I was reminded of My Summer of Love whist watching it, not least because it showcases two deserved star-making performances from its leads cut from the same cloth and spookily similar in their juxtaposition. From diametrically opposed cultures, class and home lives, these two opposites are attracted first by their mutual fixation on their teen pin-up and then to each other – the altogether more dangerous infatuation of co-dependence.

Nichola Burley's Jasminne is a WAG in training. As she and and Nicole, the accomplice she takes under her wing, stalk outside the Liverpool training grounds, it's obvious her love of the game revolves around everything that happens off the pitch. Her mission is transparently clear-cut: meet a celebrity, marry a celebrity, make a career (stage three she points out, is crucially important as you'll get many more inches in the gossip columns if you're almost as famous as your husband, be it a clothing line, your own perfume or a tell-all book deal). Impressed as she is with her Mum's expensive boob job, Jasmine brazenly proclaims that hers will have to be that much bigger and better if she's to be worthy of the paparazzi candids. Just like Emily Blunt before her, Nichola Burley oozes sex appeal and can't-take-your-eyes-of-her magnetism which'll undoubtedly see her go far. My hope is that the same fate doesn't befall these two talents as it did the co-stars of Pawel Pavlikovsky's 2005 film: Emily Blunt's sex appeal shot her to fame, while for all her Sissy Spacek-like intensity, as the befreckled, "less attractive" of the pair, Nathalie Press missed out on stepping up to the international stage and hasn't exactly been swamped with work since, a turn of events I still regard as a small travesty. Kicks has the same set-up; one is a hurricane of sexuality and seduction, whilst the other is withdrawn, intense and not being half as hot, living vicariously through the attentions of her new best friend/mentor.

Kerrie Hayes as the other half of the duo is Nicole, a girl's whose interest in the sport is just as dubiously hinged on her obsession with Liverpool FC's star player Lee Cassidy (Jamie Doyle). There's no real evidence of any special connection, insofar as Nicole is never once able to articulate her attraction, it's simply that dreams about Lee enable the wayward teen to imagine a life far from Liverpool and her broken home with a couldn't-care-less father and an older brother away on the front lines. Mercurial and damaged, Nicole is introverted except when staring directly down and beyond the camera lens, which happens often. Staring back, the viewer clearly sees a young girl with no outlet for her ignored intelligence and unlike Jasmine, no idea what it is she wants, only that she wants to get away from where she is.

Kerrie Hayes acts as if the camera isn't there, never less than natural and completely unfazed despite her tender age. So willingly is she to be examined by the lens in obtrusive sweat-smeared close-ups, Hayes' face-as-a-canvas immediately recalls the sterling obliquity of Samantha Morton in Morvern Callar. Way back when, there was the hope Lynne Ramsey's film would open the floodgates for female directors manning the helm of more substantial, interesting films outside of the chick-flick doghouse and while that didn't exactly transpire, Heymann, as part of a potential new vanguard in the wake of Kathryn Bigelow's Oscar win, is clearly more than a little indebted to her fellow brit, not so much paying homage as she is citing Ramsey as a touchstone. Flattering in her imitation, Heymann reaches for poetic transcendence through use of music, the difference between the tone and register of the soundtracks being near exclusivity to the songs of Ladytron. Not to say that it doesn't work like gangbusters and really won me over in terms of making me forget all my initial reservations, but when the similarities reach as far as the lighting in its perpetual dim-bulbed glow of whore house red, it starts to distract and shift your attention away from the story... which is more a back-of-a-napkin high concept pitch than it is a fully fledged narrative.

When an announcement is made that Lee will be transferring to Real Madrid at the end of the season, the distraught girls, go much, much further than their usual routine of hoping to catch a glimpse of their idol at the end of practise. They kidnap him.

Like the pair the pre-teen dreamers in the recent Tamara Drewe, Nicole and Jasmine have spent their formative years wishing they were people that matter, like those they see flipping through the pages of Hello! Magazine, and now this is their chance to be a part of and have some influence on that world.
What holds our attention once the plot gears start turning and the kidnapping idea formulates into a not very well thought out plan is the dynamic between the girls and the truth that neither of them could have done this on their own without pushing and shoving from the other, yet together it's a natural progression of just how far two dreamers can go when they put their heads together with little thought for the consequences.

While the dynamic sets the stage for the unveiling of masked darker intentions, the film is only ever able to sustain its tension so far, unfortunately giving way to soapy hysterics which act as a smokescreen for a film spinning its wheels in the final third and failing to deliver on the dangerous places it threatens to go, after the girls find a career-ruining sex video on Lee's mobile. Tied to a chair and begging for mercy (a scenario that made me think instantly of Hard Candy, or perhaps even a gender/age reversal of The Disappearance of Alice Creed), even after it's clear to everyone that the girls have misplaced their fanaticism on a misogynist pig, and earlier scenes have already positioned Nicole's brother's found gun as a pivotal prop that'll come into play later, I never really felt the footballer was in any great danger or peril. In the last instance, I thought he might still have a chance of outsmarting his captors, but I won't spoil whether I was right or wrong here.

Neither as disturbing as Hard Candy, nor as fearless in it's assessment of two mutually frayed and destructive psychologies as those Peter Jackson essayed with Heavenly Creatures, these are two edge-of-your seat characteristics that Heymann's self-described thriller is sorely lacking and that's really too bad because right up until the girl's image of their idol is shattered, I was swooning for Kicks the same way the girls fawn over Lee.

Isn't that kind of the point though? That once reality smashes the innocence of their teenage crush, their dreams and aspirations wilt along with it and so to does their conviction to follow through with what might have resulted at the end of their hazardously unplanned kidnap plot.

sound and vision

A crisp and spotless 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer that looks like HD rather than film was the source material, but is none the worse for that. The contrast is well judged and the colours naturalistic, though do lean towards a more pastel palette. The image levels on many scenes have been tweaked in post-production in a manner that darkens the mid-tones whist retaining the highlights, something particularly evident in some daytime exteriors, which gives even the sunniest weather an overtone of gloom, which was quite clearly a deliberate artistic choice. There is some visible digital grain in the darkest scenes, but otherwise a fine transfer all round.

The Dolby 2.0 stereo soundtrack aquits itself well, having a subtlety appropriate to the mood of the film, while the diegetic club music displays a pleasing degree of punch. The clarity is good, but you'll be unlikely to mistake it for an uncompressed Blu-ray track.

extra features

The main extra is an Interview (18:02) that crosscuts between the actors and their director. The girls prove to be equally as strong personalities off set and Nichola Burley seems much transformed physically from her character after the fact. Heymann understandably gets the lion's share of talk time, commenting on  the film as a product of the and how her focus was very visually oriented to inject a thriller like tension into the script whilst still working on a modest budget. She is rightly excited about the prospects for female directors currently in the industry. Also included is a very well edited Trailer (2:07) that gives a little too much away to be safely watched just before the film itself.

summary

What presents itself as a cautionary tale of celebrity obsession is just as much a rude awakening, coming of age love story between two teenagers. While most of the prescient points Heymann attempts to make about the dangers of our fascination with celebrity culture are obscured by too many reminders of other films, as a debut it's the start of bigger and better things for the director, bolstered by fine cinematography that belies the budget, and a pair of breakout roles from its two leads whose futures I will watch with just as much interest. Presently it's an exciting time for women in film and I'm only too happy to add Lindy Heymann, Kerrie Hayes and Nichola Burley to a list of must-watch names.

Kicks

UK 2009
81 mins
director
Lindy Heymann
starring
Nichola Burley
Gary Cargill
Jamie Doyle
Kerrie Hayes

disc details
region 2
video
1.78:1 anamorphic
sound
Dolby stereo 2.0
languages
English
subtitles
English
extras
Interview with director and lead actors

distributor
New Wave Films
release date
8 November 2010
review posted
24 November 2010

See all of Timothy E. RAW's reviews