Perfect 10

****

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Perfect 10
"Details sparkle in the script too, pared back to only what is needed."

There's something paradoxical about female gymnastics - that athletes so young and apparently petite can demonstrate such strength when they want to. Something of a metaphor then for the central character in Scottish writer/director Eva Riley's debut feature, played by real-life gymnast Frankie Box in a breakout role. She plays Leigh, a 14-year-old who has just been moved up to the senior squad but who is grappling with the grief of having lost her mother, a father (William Ash) so distant he might as well have moved to Mars and snide comments from other gymnasts who view her as "a charity case".

Leigh's mum is mentioned infrequently but Box gives a sense of grief having settled on Frankie, made more sharply acute when she tries to practice her floor routine and looks up to the window where her mum once, presumably, stood - now filled with other mums who barely give her a glance. The need for attention aches through the film, not just for Frankie but for the half-brother Joe (Alfie Deegan) who suddenly walks into her life unannounced. He's bruised in a different way to her, cast adrift by their dad and struggling to rekindle the connection.

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Both of these kids are tough and troubled in equal measure, trying to find a place for themselves in a world that has done them few favours, their actions caught between the positive and negative thrusts of teenage energy. Joe's slightly older friends hold the promise of something different for Leigh, a place for her to fit in - even if it does mean getting involved in his less than legal activities. And Riley's scripting allows Joe to retain a sort of gruff sweetness, even as Leigh's feelings start to become dangerously mixed. There's echoes of the naturalism of Andrea Arnold's work here - most notably, Fish Tank - with cinematographer Steve Cameron Ferguson's camera always catching the details, a gold chain glinting here, a hand round a beer bottle there. Details sparkle in the script too, pared back to only what is needed so that, for example, we only need to hear the occasional barb from the other gymnasts - knowing exactly which buttons to press to puncture Leigh's confidence - to understand the full story of what is happening here.

And if Arnold is a kindred spirit, the world Riley crafts remains very much her own, intimate and poignant but with an emphasis on the positive. As for Box and Deegan, they may be new to acting but you would never know it from the performances here, as finely calibrated as anything much more seasons stars could produce and charged with unspoken emotion to the last.

Reviewed on: 14 Aug 2020
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An aspiring gymnast finds her life turned upside down by the arrival of the older half-brother she didn't know she had.


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