Stella Does Tricks

**1/2

Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Hard subjects deserve hard treatment. You wouldn’t expect Scorsese to use a flashback of Jodie Foster’s sweet child dreams in Taxi Driver to emphasise the pathos of her shitty street life. With his first feature Coky Giedroye lays it on soft. AL Kennedy’s script is searching for a little love, a little light, in Stella’s sad, bad situation. Despite a liberal use of the most popular adjective in the English language, the film begs to be nice.

Kelly Macdonald lifts a tarnished subject out of the gutter with the kind of performance that lights candles at 20 paces. Stella is still a teenager, still romantic in that you-and-me-against-the-world foreverness, while acting tough when the mood takes her.

She’s all over the place: adventurous, vulnerable and spontaneous. Changing her mind as fast as she can make her crazy decisions, which feels exactly right. Macdonald is wonderful. She gives Stella a living reality that is both tender and wild, in control and so far out that she’s lost in space: a girl who is a woman who wants to be a girl, trapped in a runaway cycle of dependence and no-way-back.

Stella is in London working for a weird, middle-aged pimp (James Bolam), who talks nursery to her. She tags along with a skinny kid (Hans Matheson), who seems kind and decent, except for his heroin habit, and tries to make a future for herself. She has memory flashes of her Glaswegian childhood with dad, a failed stand-up comic whom she adores (until he tries it on) and a prim, preposterous aunt.

The fantasy sequences don’t work and the childhood flashbacks are too predictable. Kennedy appears to be using her imagination in an area that requires cold, hard facts. The Bolam character is absurd and the junkie kid doesn’t rise above the parapet. Giedroye lacks conviction. He wants to get down like Antonia Bird in Safe, but loses his nerve.

The result is closer to Hanif Kureishi’s London Kills Me with one exception. Kennedy understands Stella and Macdonald understands everything.

Reviewed on: 19 Jan 2001
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The story of a Glaswegian prostitute in London.
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Director: Coky Giedroye

Writer: AL Kennedy

Starring: Kelly Macdonald, James Bolam, Hans Matheson, Ewan Stewart, Andy Serkis, Paul Chahidi, Lindsay Henderson, Lisa Adam, Dimitri Andreas, Andrzej Borkowski, Antoine de Caunes

Year: 1997

Runtime: 97 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: UK

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