Being a teenage girl can be hard. Everything in your life is both incredibly important and frivolous. The years between being a child and an adult feel like an eternity, but they will eventually be a blip in your memory. Some teenagers can fully embrace every joyous moment of this insane time, however, not all get that privilege.
Rocks follows our titular character (Bukky Bakray) whose teenage time is abruptly cut short when her mother runs off, leaving Rocks with the responsibility of taking care of herself and her young brother. We meet Rocks in the midst of pure joy with her friends, a group of schoolgirls from London’s East End. The sounds of their laughter and rambunctious behaviour explode through the theatre speakers. They are the pinnacle of unbridled happiness. This moment feels like a lifetime, until it ends. The purity of Rocks’ life is tarnished when she is forced into a corner, and makes difficult decisions out of fear and naivety.
Life is constantly throwing obstacles her way, but what Rocks experiences feels especially cruel. Bukky Bakray flourishes in this semi-scripted role, and there is a great sense of ownership over her character. A bright future is ahead of her as an actress, because it is impossible not to be fully captivated by her presence. Her crew is also especially magnetic and their scenes together will leave you grinning from ear to ear. Kosar Ali is a standout as the kindhearted and fierce best friend, Sumaya.
Director Sarah Gavron trusts in her actors to play these roles as they are in the script, but gives many of the first-time actresses a chance to breathe life into their characters. The diversity in this friend group is effortless and true to the setting. And, with this incredible cast on screen, no moment feels scripted or produced for dramatic effect. This is reflected in Gavron’s directing, which is understated and grounded. Gavron is also directing from a script by screenwriter Theresa Ikoko’s whose life is the basis of the story. The honesty of Rocks’ situation is thoroughly upsetting and impactful.
Rocks is a coming-of-age story that confronts a sad reality for many teenagers. Teenhood is already fraught with drama, but when the real world intrudes in such a devastating manner, it’s important to look to the figurative “rocks” in your life. Let a helping hand help when it reaches out to you. Find the ones in your life that will fill your heart with love and fill the air with laughter. Rocks is a moving tribute to our sisters who stand by us in our hour of need, a story that will resonate with anyone, no matter their age.
Rocks premiered at Toronto International Film Festival in the Platform programme.
By Ferdosa Abdi
Ferdosa Abdi is a lifelong film student and aspiring film festival programmer. Her favourite genres are science-fiction, fantasy, and horror and her favourite director is Guillermo del Toro. She is madly in love with Eva Green and believes she should be cast in everything. You can follow Ferdosa on Twitter @atomicwick