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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

Side by Side review (London Film Festival) (world premiere)

Side by Side yellow light Alfie Field Bel Powley

Misses more marks than it attempts to hit, but there’s a refreshing sweetness to this child’s-eye view of grief and tragedy.
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

Teenager Lauren Buckle (Bel Powley) is desperately trying to keep her little family together since the recent death of her parents. Her dreamy, nerdy younger brother, Harvey (Alfie Field: The Woman in Black), is handful enough, but now their grandmother (Diana Quick), with whom they’ve been living, has become far too senile to look after them. And their new guardian, Lauren’s sports agent (Sara Stewart) — the girl is a gifted runner and an Olympic hopeful — is threatening to split up the siblings. So, on the morning the family is due to be broken up, Harvey runs away in order to, as Lauren learns when she catches up with him, find the only family they have left: a grandfather they’ve never met, and whom no one has seen in years. With not much behind them, Lauren agrees to accompany Harvey on his “quest,” modeled, in his head, after the missions in the “World of Dragons” game he plays online. With his first feature, British director Arthur Landon (writing with Matthew James Wilkinson), misses more marks than he attempts to hit, and what’s intended to be a slightly fantastical heightened sense of reality about the endeavor more often comes across as somewhat naive, particularly in a culture acutely attuned nowadays to the dangers vulnerable and lonely kids face at the hands of less than caring adults, with pedophilia scandals and spectacular failures of child-protective services recurring hot topics in U.K. news in recent years. Not that this film comes anywhere near broaching such issues. But failing to reach even the mild level of fantasy it aims for leaves it marooned in reality… a reality that it is not quite equipped to cope with. Still, there’s a refreshing sweetness to this child’s-eye view of grief and tragedy, and its young stars are engaging, plausible real kids. (It’s the adults here, the nice ones and the mean ones, who are less believable.) And it’s pretty wonderful to see a kids’ movie that doesn’t appear designed to sell branded toys, backpacks, sneakers, and T-shirts.

viewed during the 57th BFI London Film Festival

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Side by Side (2013)
BBFC: not rated

viewed in 2D
viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics


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