If there’s one film that is worth risking the dreaded mask clad commute for this year, it’s ‘Rocks’. But bring a spare mask because you will inevitably dampen yours with a concoction of happy tears, nostalgia tears (I hadn’t realised they were a thing either until watching this film) and good old fashioned sadness tears. Directed by Sarah Gavron (Brick Lane and Suffragette) and written by Theresa Ikoko and Claire Wilson, ‘Rocks’ is the injection of energy, tenderness and warmth that we, the collective class of 2020, were desperately crying out for.
‘Rocks’ opens on a picturesque London rooftop as our new favourite squad chat, dance and laugh together. We instantly feel a little misty eyed remembering just how simple things felt back then. Which is of course the beauty of hind sight, we cherry pick the glossy bits from our teenage years and suppress the memories of the constant emotional turmoil. The rose tinted rooftop joy sadly does not last for our girl gang, in fact the aforementioned emotional turmoil takes centre stage as our lovable eponymous protagonist Rocks faces a huge family related upheaval. A challenge (to say the least) that she takes on with astounding maturity, because this unfortunately is not Rock’s first traumatic rodeo. In the short time we are lucky enough to spend with Rocks we feel pride, empathy, admiration an overwhelming desire to give her the biggest hug and tell her that ‘it gets better.’
There’s a million ways to tell a coming of age story because there is of course a million ways to come of age but ‘Rocks’ was able to do so in a way that made every fiber of my being tingle with nostalgia. As I looked around the socially distanced cinema I saw countless nods, laughs and sighs of recognition from my fellow viewers. Whether it was cringing at a helpless teacher’s pathetic attempt to control a food fight in food tech class or the moment Rocks and her painfully adorable little brother Emmanuel tuck in to a glass of blackcurrant squash and a packet of crisps after school. The film just screams authenticity which is not surprising considering the fact Gavron speaks of nine months of workshopping to find the realest girls this country has to offer. However there is nothing amateur about this cast of future Oscar winners (mark my words). In fact I was shocked to discover that ‘Rocks’ is many of the cast’s debut film.
Sound tracked by the likes of Jorja Smith, Burna Boy and Ray BLK ‘Rocks’ captures the essence of British inner city culture. The irony of course is not lost on me that the curators of British culture – our girls – are second and third generation Somali, Nigerian, Polish, Bangladeshi to name a few. The girls certainly don’t live together in perfect harmony but it’s abundantly clear that there’s a whole list of things that may cause the girls to fall out; boys, money, girls, school work, but race and culture are definitely at the bottom of that list. That being said, you’d never find teenage me arguing with anyone even half as witty and hilarious as Rocks’ bestie Sumaya played by the excellent Kosar Ali. A strong contender for favorite character, the competition is stiff but she does edge it with her brilliant one liners, eye rolls and truthful doses of wisdom.
The only shame about this film is that it has taken until 2020 for the UK to see a cast of talented young women of colour lead a complex and multifaceted plot line, a plot in which they for once aren’t an accessory, the sassy best friend or the girlfriend of the male protagonist. Part of me wishes we’d followed suit sooner when France gave us ‘Girlhood’ (2014) and ‘Divines’ (2016) both of which tell the stories of young girls navigating life in big cities. But as they say, better late than never!
‘Rocks’ somehow manages to both warm and break your heart at the same time and I could not recommend this film more if you fancy a trip down memory lane. We must however be careful not to celebrate or glamourise the incredible resilience and strength displayed by Rocks as she tries to navigate this difficult chapter of her life. All too often young black girls are forced to grow up too quickly and I worry that the film is simply foreshadowing Rocks’ lifetime of as a ‘Strong Black Woman.’