Giddy Stratospheres

***1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Giddy Stratospheres
"The characters feel real, their lives believably chaotic."

For a young person in a big city like London, life is a patchwork of people and experiences, sometimes difficult to make sense of in a linear way. All the more so if one is making copious use of drugs and alcohol, keeping oneself constantly in motion for fear of what will happen if one stops. For Daniel (Jamal Franklin) the driving pain stems from a fractured relationship with his mother. For Lara (played by writer and first time feature director Laura Jean Marsh) it stems from a different loss.

Marsh’s non-linear, impressionistic approach to storytelling suits her material well and also helps her to capture the particular energy of the arts/clubbing/indie music scene in London in 2007. The film is at its best when immersed in this world and for many viewers a major point of appeal will be its soundtrack. A lot of thought has gone into the costuming, which avoids the common error of looking too expensive or well looked after for the people who are wearing it, and the dialogue in these stretches is likewise clumsy in all the right places. The characters feel real, their lives believably chaotic. On the one hand we see them enjoying the good times; on the other, it’s horribly clear how ill-equipped they are to face the bad.

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There’s an awareness here, too, of the complicated class dynamics of any big city scene. Daniel is living on the edge for real, afraid of losing his only means of support (the reason for this is never made explicit but is easy enough to guess). Lara is a tourist of sorts – a rich girl slumming it because she wants to be in with the in crowd – yet the film invites us to feel sympathy for her nonetheless because she bruises as easily as anyone else. What’s more, it manages to show us that her lifestyle is a symptom of a lack of control without diminishing the fun of it.

Where it’s less successful is in depicting Lara’s original, upper class world, seen when she travels home for a funeral. The tone is very different here, with a parade of luvvies delivering self-conscious, parodic performances which threaten to overwhelm Marsh’s own nuanced acting work. It knocks the film off balance in an unfortunate way, grating more than it entertains, but thankfully there isn’t very much of it. It’s also redeemed to a degree by the sensitive approach subsequently taken to Lara’s immediate family situation.

What those problematic scenes flag up more than anything is Marsh’s inexperience and consequent lack of confidence as a director. Where she’s sure of herself, she really has something valuable to offer. Her superficially chaotic scenes build an effective synergy in a work that is both atmospheric and poignant. Despite its melancholy tone, this is a celebration of friendship and the way that lives can be patched together when nothing makes sense the way it should.

Reviewed on: 17 Sep 2021
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Giddy Stratospheres packshot
A young woman tries to come to terms with bereavement in the London indie music scene in 2007.

Director: Laura Jean Marsh

Writer: Laura Jean Marsh

Starring: Laura Jean Marsh, Jamal Franklin, Charlotte Weston, Richard Herring, Luke Maskell

Year: 2021

Runtime: 67 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: UK

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