Justine

***1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Justine
"Haddon is excellent in the lead."

Hiding from the landlord. Shoplifting alcohol and clothes. Doing what she wants when she wants. Justine (Tallulah Haddon) is living the kind of life that seems really cool when you're 14, but she's quite a bit older. admittedly, she lost time due to being in prison, as e find out when she drags herself to her mandatory counselling sessions, and perhaps her counsellor is right when she suggests that despair is at the bottom of it - Justine believes that due to her criminal record there's no point in even trying to get a job, but the malaise and self-hatred seem to run deeper than that. Then she meets Rachel (Sophie Reid), a TEFL student with a bright future who wants to make her part of it, and seems as if love might conquer all - but is she tough enough to stay the course?

A slice of life presented just as it is without trying to explain everything, this Brighton-set drama works first and foremost as a character study, inviting us to wonder how it is that people end up in Justine's situation and whether or not it's possible to get out. At times Justine's certainty that it is not seems like a defence mechanism, shielding her from the crushing weight of hope. Something inside her is constantly hurting and reaching for the bottle brings immediate relief. Being advised that continuing to drink will kill her only makes the pain worse and the impulse stronger. At first she hides her self-destructive behaviour from Rachel, but she too frequently lacks coherence to be capable of keeping secrets for long. The passion between them also seems to ease her pain, but Rachel - like her counsellor - is simply unable to be there all the time.

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Loving an addict takes nerves of steel but it's all too easy to fall into it by accident. Rachel is attracted to Justine's impulsiveness, her happy-go-lucky attitude to life and, perhaps, her lack of ties - she has no difficulty rearranging her life to fit around Rachel's changing schedule, at least to begin with. She's full of the promise of hedonistic freedom which Hollywood movies promise us love will bring, but this isn't Hollywood. Keeping his focus on the title character, director Jamie Patterson lets us see how Rachel is caught in her orbit, fighting to remain relevant.

Haddon is excellent in the lead. As Justine pushes everyone away, she makes sure that we can still see enough of the person underneath all the pain to feel sympathy. This is a bright young woman, lively and full of potential but seemingly unable to bear the burden of responsibility for her own survival. Alongside her, we get glimpses of other damaged lives, or care professionals who have learned the hard way that they can't afford to get attached, and of the cruelty of which others are capable. Importantly, Patterson doesn't give Justine an easy get-out by presenting her as a victim of abuse by men. He reminds us that women can be vicious too, at the same time as illustrating Justine's habit of blaming everything on other people even when doing so only damages her further.

Vividly realised and ably played, this film offers a rare perspective on love, its limits and its chaotic potential in an already unstable life.

Reviewed on: 05 Mar 2021
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A young woman struggles with her demons.

Director: Jamie Patterson

Writer: Jamie Patterson

Starring: Tallulah Haddon, Sophie Reid, Steve Oram

Year: 2021

Runtime: 82 minutes

Country: UK

Festivals:

Flare 2020

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