OK, I admit it. I’m a sucker for the Coming-Of-Age film genre. Dating my movie history watching to movies like Stand By Me, the best Stephen King book adaptation if you ask me, I always get welled up watching movies where children grow up on the screen through their interactions.
In all these youth coming-of-age sagas, there is always a combination of humor, fear, danger, and finally the realization that you can’t go back to being the kid you were after all that has happened to you. Just like life, once you go from being a child to a teen, there is no going back. This can be a very difficult concept to capture on screen. It takes many things to make this work well. One, you need a director that can think like a child. Two, you need really, really, really good youth actors who can capture all the emotion required to make the viewer believe that they have grown up on the screen.
Even rarer, I would think, would be for a low budget, independent movie to put all this together in a way that makes it work. Given the fact that my eyes were slightly damp at the end of watching Shane Meadows’ Somers Town, I’d say that he got it pretty much right. Somers Town won awards at the Tribeca and Edinburgh Film Festivals. It certainly has all the elements of a low budget independent: no-name actors, black and white (well for the most part) cinematography, and a simple, quiet story. What it had to have to make it work was emotion–and it’s packed with that.
The story, which takes place in England, starts with a teen boy named Tomo running away from his hometown to a poor working class section of London. Alone, with nowhere to go, Tomo wonders the streets until a chance meeting with Marek, who recently moved from Poland with his father and is also left alone all day. Marek and Tomo become fast friends and Marek lets Tomo hide in his room at his apartment, not telling his dad Tomo is there. Marek and Tomo also share an infatuation with a slightly older waitress named Marie, who is displaced from France.
That puts all the elements together for a classic coming-of-age story. All of the main characters find themselves at a tough age and in and environment that is strange and different to them. Marek and Tomo are polar opposites, yet their common situations create a deep and real friendship between them as they have no other friends in their lives. At one point one of the boys says “why doesn’t anything good happen to me?” This line really defines some of the movies main themes. Living in a tough part of London and only scraping by creates a feeling of desperation for the boys. The only thing they seem to look forward to every day is the possibility of seeing Marie, their crush.
As the story progresses, the boys have a few adventures and continue to try to find ways to attract Maria to them. Meadows uses the low budget to his advantage here. The black and white film accentuates the dreariness of this poor part of London. It makes the area feel more bleak than it probably is, but that is helpful for the movie. What even makes it work better is that color arrives when the boys take a trip to Paris, France, to find their first love. The movie switches to color and has the same effect as in The Wizard of Oz. It was a surprise, yet so appropriate to the beauty that Paris is compared to their poor English town.
The story is made even better with the wonderful music composition of Gavin Clark throughout. This was a smart choice by Meadows, since the music not only helps the scenes flow together, but creates at times almost a music video feel for the movie, particularly at the end scene. I certainly won’t ruin it for you, it’s worth watching just to get the emotional gotcha that the end brings. No, it’s not Stand By Me. There isn’t the same total emotional coming-of-age payoff as you got there. But it is satisfying and I think, in the end, shares the same emotional end line as that movie:
“I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?”