James Gardner’s feature debut tells the story of 15-year-old Sarah Taylor (Liv Hill), a young carer in Margate who finds an escape through stand-up comedy. Sarah is the sole provider for her mother and two young siblings; she skips school to work at a local arcade and performs handjobs for sleazy men by the bins for some extra cash. The family share a diet of microwave noodles as they struggle to make rent due to the mother’s mental illness. Played convincingly by Sinead Matthews, she is unfit for work and suffers manic episodes ranging from bed-ridden to shopaholic at the theme park.
Once Gardner establishes Sarah’s day-to-day – managing the school run, her own school day, and working evenings – he attempts to offer some glimmer of hope when her drama teacher (Cyril Niri) spots potential in her angsty but smart put-downs to her fellow classmates. (To her mother: “They wouldn’t employ you as a speed bump.”) After watching clips of Frankie Boyle for homework, Sarah is inspired to write down her own musings on the cards life has dealt her.
In spite of its premise, Jellyfish only gets bleaker. As things get harder at home and she’s desperate for cash, Sarah gets into some sticky situations and even pretends to be her mother to sign on. It’s suitably harrowing watching a young girl forced to be so grown up, whilst her peers at school are forming dance groups and doing homework, she is working full-time and feeding her siblings with what little she has. The shaky documentary-style camera and lack of score make this social realist drama fade in amongst all the others that came before it. However, it tells a compelling story, and Hill’s sensational performance prevents Jellyfish from deflating. It offers little catharsis in its climax; just fizzling out means that the film is easily forgettable, but Liv Hill won’t be.
Jellyfish is available on Digital June 24th.
by Millicent Thomas
Millicent Thomas is a proud Mancunian studying Film & Publishing in Bath. She has written freelance for Little White Lies, Much Ado About Cinema, Reel Honey, and more. Her favourite films include Logan, Columbus, and Spy-Kids. Follow her on Instagram, Twitter and Letterboxd at @millicentonfilm