Movie Review by Dr Kuma
Starring: Jenna Harrison, Ben Whishaw, Honeysuckle Weeks, Michael Erskine
Director: Dom Rotheroe
When Tom (Ben Whishaw) comes crashing into Jessica’s life (literally, he jumps from a burning tree in the forest she is picking berries in) she is both alarmed and intrigued by his dark nature. The forest is his sanctuary and like the witch in ‘Hansel and Gretel’, he entices Jessica into his domain. It is a journey from which the sensible, hard working, school-attending Jessica will never return. Instead this decision to follow Tom will awake another side of her character, one that she and those around her have never encountered and failed to recognise. A kind of ‘Jessica and Hyde’ if you will.
However, unlike the Robert Louis Stevenson novel, these changes are brought about by outside factors and are not self-inflicted. The sexual confusion that her teacher and next-door neighbour Jack (Adrian Rawlins) instigates by a drunken fumble is the start of a long and slippery slope we accompany Jessica on over the next two hours.
It goes without saying that this film, as it’s British, is very dark, but again, it is the acting which enables this country to produce films such as this, which, although depressing, challenge the way we perceive things. In this case it is the abuse teenagers, as opposed to children, can endure, even in the most suburban safe areas of any major town.
Jenna Harrison is outstanding as Jessica. This is a real ‘name for the future’ as not only is she beautiful, she can counteract this with a teenage naïvete that makes you think twice about the character she portrays. You can see why the characters in the film find her attractive, but her age makes the whole thing uncomfortable in a Lolita kind of way. Ben Crenshaw is unsettling as Tom, a mad cross between an out of control Nicolas Cage (a la WILD AT HEART) and a softly spoken idiot – I kid you not. You can understand why this mad kid attracts the wild side of Jessica, but after things spiral, you really wonder why she followed him into the woods in the in the first place. Especially as her character at that stage would have thought he was a psycho, not a lost child (he eats worms and soil yet thinks chocolate tastes like shit and washes in stagnant water). The rest of the film veers widely from accomplished (the scenes of the teenage party and school classes remind us exactly what it was like) to the overdrawn (the break in at the Church).
MY BROTHER TOM is a flawed but a very brave piece of cinema. The use of digital video as opposed to film by acclaimed cinematographer Robby Muller is unfocused at first, but then becomes intimate, mirroring the two lead characters. Locations are used very well and the whole experience will stay with you for some time. However, the films major problem is that it is too long, although many will see it as necessary to show character changes. I do hope that teenagers will see this film, as it is a sort of cinematic Catcher in The Rye – you really need to be that age to appreciate the way the leads feel and the rebelliousness that the age brings. It is also interesting that I aligned myself more with the rebelliousness of the leads than the ineffectual older characters they are meant to rely on.
Throughout the film Tom calls Jessica “Fee”. This is based on the rhyme ‘fee, fie, fo, fum’. I’m just glad that the performances lifted it from the ho hum.
Dr Kuma’s verdict: All in all this is a brave, well-acted cinema experience.