The first thing that grabs your attention when watching ‘Two For Joy’ is how it looks. With the rounded edges of the frame and the use of high contrast within it, the film has the look of a home movie – of family footage of beloved memories of a summer holiday. Whilst ‘Two For Joy’ is about family, it’s not so much about happy memories. Instead it’s the exploration of family trauma, and how unspoken pain can cause utter devastation.
Imagine ‘The Florida Project’ meets ‘Fish Tank’. That gives you an idea of tone and topic. And yet ‘Two For Joy’ is decidedly different from either movie, favouring a more muted and meditative approach. We never truly get to know the central characters, we only truly know of the pain they are enduring; baring witness to their suffering whilst incapable to helping them. Samantha Morton plays Aisha, a mother struggling with the death of her husband, the father of her two children. The grief has had severe repercussions on her mental health, rendering her either unable or incapable to look after her children. Instead the responsibilities of the household have fallen upon her eldest, Violet (Emilia Jones), who is currently in the process of sitting her GCSEs. She’s smart and hard-working, desperate to do well and do right by her family whilst struggling with her own grief at her father’s death.
Her younger brother Troy (Badger Skelton) is fairing less well. Excluded from school and becoming increasingly withdrawn from his family, fishing is the only thing that seems to make him happy. Violet suggests the family have a break away to the coast and stay in the family’s caravan, as they used to do during happier times. It’s there that they meet the site’s owners, Lias (Daniel Mays), his sister Lillah (Billie Piper) and her daughter Miranda (Bella Ramsey). Troy becomes fast and firm friends with Miranda. Both are equally troubled and the friendship seems destined to be doomed.
That’s the atmosphere that prevails over the whole film, the increasing sense of inevitability that something is going to go horribly wrong. It makes for compelling yet painful viewing, we know things will go wrong yet we cannot turn away. That’s because writer-director Tom Beard, making his feature film director debut, has created characters who are presented honestly but humanely. They’re openly flawed but treated sympathetically, we cannot help but care for them.
Fundamentally that’s because we know that this one family is representative of many other families in the UK, families broken by circumstance and struggling to cope. With this film Beard is giving a platform to the quietly suffering, his cast make those words visceral and urgent. Jones is superb as a young girl being forced to grow up far too quickly. Ramsey (familiar to many as the scene-stealing Lyanna Mormont in ‘Game of Thrones’) showcases once more a cinematic presence that is hauntingly older than her years. Skelton has a quality about him that’s reminiscent of a young Thomas Turgoose in ‘This Is England’ (2006) able to play a character with a fierce external front that is merely a shell concealing vast amounts of internal pain. Morton’s performance is so good that at times it’s painful to watch, such is the harrowing raw honesty within her portrayal of a woman being continuously run down by life.
‘Two For Joy’ tells a desperate and difficult story that needs to be told and needs to be heard.
‘Two For Joy’ is available on iTunes here from February 25th.