Dir/scr Noel Clarke.UK. 2008. 103 mins
The move from kidulthood to Adulthood prompts some awkward growing pains for screenwriter/actor Noel Clarke as he also assumes the role of director for the first time and his film’s polished, technical confidence is fatally undermined by overwrought melodrama and unconvincing performances.
Clarke’s wide-ranging screenplay struggles to make a meaningful statement about the futility of violence and the possibility for change in the lives of Britain’s angry, alienated youth. But incidents and attitudes rarely ring true and the film never feels as streetwise and cutting edge as it seems to think it is. In a Britain rife with knife crime and teenage deaths, Adulthood is certainly timely, but it is hard to see it working commercially within the United Kingdom, never mind internationally. The violence and posturing could make it a more attractive proposition for the dvd market, which has embraced Nick Love films like The Football Factory and Outlaw.
Set six years after kidulthood, which was directed by Menhaj Huda, Adulthood follows Sam (Clarke) on the day he is released from prison. He has served his sentence for the murder that ended kidulthood and now wants to enjoy his freedom and find some peace. Friends and loved ones of the boy he killed have a different plan, however, especially Jay (Deacon) who has neither forgotten nor forgiven. Stabbed in a cemetery, Sam is warned that he will not live to see another day. Seeking to avoid the inevitable, he spends the day confronting his family and spending time with the untrustworthy Lexie (Johnson).
Adulthood is a slick slice of storytelling. Clarke makes extensive use of split screen, topsy-turvy angles and speeded-up footage to lend a dynamic edge to the narrative. Cinematographer Brian Tufano captures an unfamiliar London and bleeds the colour from the screen when the film slips into flashbacks capturing Sam’s memories of his brutal prison experiences.
The problem with Adulthood is a story that seems content to run through all the stock drugs and violence cliches beloved of films about modern youth. Conversations are peppered with profanity and street slang to give them the veneer of gritty realism and ensure that the film would require subtitles in other English-language markets. Actors strike tough guy poses which are never quite believable. The non-stop catalogue of sob stories and violent acts unfolds to diminishing dramatic returns, dwindling to the point of unintentional laughter. The actors fail to generate sympathy or empathy for characters that may be the victim of circumstances but often seem repellent.
Clarke gives one of the film’s best performances. He effective underplays Sam’s brooding intensity, conveying the inner conflict of his struggle to lead a better life and put the past behind him. There are glimmers of a much better and more poignant film in the reflective moments when Clarke the filmmaker manages to pull the disparate elements of the story together and capture the bigger picture of blighted lives and stark moral chances. You can admire Clarke’s auteurist ambitions but Adulthood can’t hold a candle to a modern American classic like Boyz N The Hood (1991) or a more credible British effort like Saul Dibb’s Bullet Boy (2004).
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Scarlett Alice Johnson