This indie pic, the megging debut of British theatrical director Rufus Norris, is heartfelt, sensitive and lousy; a fine example of a literary work that refuses to take to the screen. The story centers on young Scout, I mean, Skunk, an independent, motherless adolescent girl with a daddy fixation (pop’s a lawyer), an older brother, a problem with school bullies, a nose for trouble and various neighbors & plot elements also clandestinely retrofitted out of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. (A rape allegation from a slutty white-trash blonde as central narrative device? MOCKINGBIRD only had one; why not two wrongly accused for twice the drama?) As played by Eloise Laurence, Skunk even looks a bit like Scout (I mean, Mary Badham), and gets to know a mentally handicapped grown-up across the cul-de-sac from her house, he lives just past that British white-trash place with the explosive widowed dad and the three viciously psychotic sisters. (What? No tree with a hollow for secret knickknacks?) Director Norris knows things don’t quite add up so he tries a bit of non-linear editing, opening scenes at their climax then jumping a few steps back to show how we got here. Stylistic subterfuge that can’t hide all the inexplicably incurious lawyers, cops & teachers who make up the cast of characters. Though that’s preferable to the dream-of-death climax, a bathetic arthouse version of the current Fundamentalist Christian hit HEAVEN IS FOR REAL/’14. Yikes!
WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: As mentioned above, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD/’62 or, for a fine British coming-of-age pic, AN EDUCATION/’09.