Runtime: 84 Minutes
Director/Writer: Eva Riley
Stars: Frankie Box, Alfie Deegan, Sharlene Whyte
By Calum Cooper
Edinburgh based writer/director Eva Reilly has made a compassionate coming-of-age story that brims with legitimacy with her debut feature, “Perfect 10” (2019). A Brighton-set feature that recalls such films as Andrea Arnold’s “Fish Tank” (2009), this is a confident start to a filmmaking career. It displays natural talent and an abundance of promise for growth, for the director and main star alike.
Paralleling Reilly’s debut is star Frankie Box giving her first feature performance. She plays Leigh, a gifted teenage gymnast who is suffering. Her passion for sport has slowly dissipated, drained bit by bit by a broken, neglectful home life and the other gymnasts referring to her as a “charity case”. One day, an older boy named Joe (Alfie Deegan) enters her home and reveals that they are half-siblings. This unexpected development drastically changes Leigh’s life for better and for worse.
At the core of “Perfect 10” is an amusing look at companionship, specifically the kind that you can find in siblings. From the beginning, it is clear that Leigh lives a lonely existence. With her mother dead, her father mostly absent, and seemingly few to no friends based on how the other girls treat her, Leigh can only ever find comfort when she is alone. But isolation is often a double-edged sword, for although we can escape the pressures and hardships of everyday life when we have time to ourselves, we still long for human connection, as Leigh undoubtedly does.
This is where Joe comes in and the film explodes into life. He arrives into the film with such suddenness that even Leigh barely has time to adjust. Yet over the course of the story, a distinct relationship begins to form between the siblings who have only just met. As Joe starts to appreciate Leigh’s gymnastic prowess where others have ignored it, Leigh also starts to appreciate the struggles of Joe’s own life. He is into some shady business involving thievery and motorbikes – it makes sense if you’ve seen the film – and in their shared need for companionship find each other.
“At the core of “Perfect 10” is an amusing look at companionship, specifically the kind that you can find in siblings.”
What this amounts to is a genuinely tender film with a lot to say in regards to loneliness, the loss and rebirth of passion, and especially the sibling dynamic. It’s a relationship that can hold tension, bitterness, and even rivalry on the worst days. But on the best days it’s a bond unlike any one will ever have, and this is what this film recognises beautifully. These are two struggling people who throughout the film find much-needed comfort in each other.
Reilly’s direction and script play big roles in the effectiveness of this. Her dialogue is sharp and lifelike, with even the most seemingly mundane conversations carrying great thematic weight. Meanwhile, the way she portrays the characters’ emotional struggles visually – from the opening shot of Leigh hanging upside down on the bars to tracking shots of the characters as they physically and mentally journey from one place to another – is both eloquent and evocative. All the while, two brilliant performances lead the film. Box and Deegan have a natural chemistry and commanding presence, tapping into the melancholy and quiet bravery of their characters with ease. Box in particular steals the show with her unflinching portrayal of vulnerability obscured by a veil of toughness. It is in her performance where the film’s richest and most devastating attributes lie.
“Perfect 10” is an excellent film that shows a lot of promise for both Reilly as a filmmaker and Box as an up-and-coming actor. What the film lacks in narrative originality it makes up for with its soulful insight into its own characters as well as its practical pleasantries – eg production design and cinematography. Loneliness is something we as people often experience in our darkest moments, and it is films like “Perfect 10” that show how companionship can be both so close and so far away.