NYFF 60 Review: Aftersun

Year: 2022
Runtime:  96 minutes
Director: Charlotte Wells
Writer: Charlotte Wells
Cast: Paul Mescal, Frankie Corio, Celia Rowlson-Hall, Harry Perdios, Sally Mesham

By Tom Moore

With her feature directorial debut, “Aftersun,” Charlotte Wells crafts a deeply emotional and at times painful slice of life story that evokes the struggles of looking back while showcasing two incredible performances.

The film sees a woman named Sophie (Celia Rowlson-Hall) think back to her past, twenty years earlier, when her father Calum (Paul Mescal) and she (Frankie Corio) went on holiday together as she tries to envision the man she remembered him as and what she didn’t see. When it comes to how Wells depicts this sense of looking back into someone’s past and piecing together the time, she’s nearly flawless. Admittedly, the sections of the film that shift to Sophie as an adult in the present reflecting don’t come off as clear at first and there’s a lot of reality-breaking moments that equally come off unclear in the moment. However, “Aftersun” is that kind of film that leaves you thinking about it and the more you do, the clearer Wells vision becomes, and you can’t help but be impressed by her storytelling.

The video camera footage used throughout the film that her younger self and father recorded acts as this perfect window into the past that we can all relate to. It’s truly a perfect time capsule that Sophie can use to reflect on things and it’s interesting to see how she’s thinking on them in a different light. There are also some moments that touch on Sophie’s thinking in retrospective as she fills gaps with scenes of what she believed her father was going through during their holiday. These scenes are truly some of the most heartbreaking of the film as they often showcase Calum suffering through depression and the idea of these things being things that Sophie thinks of now adds an extra level of heartache to the whole thing.

“Aftersun” can hit some strong emotional notes about depression that sneak up on you when you’re watching it and thinking on the film afterwards, but it’s not all doom and gloom. Gregory Oke’s cinematography creates this perfectly warm summer atmosphere that makes some of the good-hearted moments more engaging. Honestly, for most of the film, you can’t help but smile and laugh along with the amazing father/daughter chemistry that Mescal and Corio have.

This is undoubtedly a breakout moment for Corio as she instantly makes you adore Sophie for her energetic youth, desires to experience new things, and attempts to bring her father out of his shell. Along with touching on her dynamic with her father during this time, it’s also great that her perspective of dealing with more mature things like romantic relationships and wanting to be like older kids is included in her arc since it adds more to the idea of Sophie looking back at this moment as an adult. These stories threads definitely feel akin to Kayla’s story in “Eighth Grade” with how she tries to find her place within an older crowd and Corio’s performance gives off major Hailee Steinfeld vibes meaning that it’ll easily win over a wide crowd through her charm.

Corio is also able to bring in great dramatic moments full of emotion that balance well with Mescal’s top-tier performance. Mescal not only gives off great dad vibes just in the goofy dance moves he can dish out and the way it’s easy to see how much he loves Sophie, but also delivers some subtle but easily felt emotion. Even in times where Calum is smiling or seemingly having a good time, there’s this pain and heartache that can be felt within him and it makes you gravitate more towards trying to understand what he’s feeling just like Sophie does. It’s all because Mescal gives a performance that’s so emotionally vulnerable and real ultimately making Calum’s personal story one of the strongest emotional threads in “Aftersun.” Together, Mescal and Corio are an emotional powerhouse that have you heart in their grip from the start and hit a wide range of emotions that’ll make you nostalgic towards your own familial connections and even a little misty-eyed.

While it may take some time to see the full strengths of “Aftersun” because of its abstract nature and Wells’ unique vision for storytelling, it’s such an easy film to enjoy because of the personal story it tells. Mescal and Corio are award-worthy and fantastic, and the film acts as this great experience about looking back into the past to gain new perspective and understanding.

4-stars

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