Director: Menhaj Huda
Cast: Aml Ameen, Red Madrell, Noel Clarke, Adam Deacon, Jaime Winstone, Femi Oyeniran, Rafe Spall
Plot: When a bullied girl kills herself, a London school is closed for two days, throwing into motion a startling chain of events.
Kidulthood starts how it means to go on. A bullied girl locks herself in her room and hangs herself. This opening sequence kicks off the closing of the school which acts as a narrative foil for the rest of the movie. Its minor part in the story makes the hard-hitting opening even more uneasy. How can such tragic events be swept under the rug in the urban streets of London? But that is the power of Huda and Noel Clarke’s (who pens the script), story. These streets are so used to tragedy, they no longer register as they should.
When the suicide is over and done with, we focus on the lead characters in this story. Aml Ameen leads the trio of teenage boys who act as our narrative. Rough around the edges, but a decent person deep down, Ameen is a soft-hearted character who is easy to like, especially compared to the teenage archetypes that surround the plot. With two days off of school, Ameen attempts to navigate London, dodging unwanted attention from the police, Noel Clarke’s monstrous bully and an arms-dealing uncle. At the same time, we jump to Red Madrell, playing a young girl, pregnant with either Ameen’s or Clarke’s child. The story goes from set-piece to set-piece, its main goal to flaunt its interesting character arcs. Ameen and Madrell really do strike you as good people, so trapped in this decaying town, life refuses to give them a chance. Madrell, in particular, is extremely powerful as the pregnant teen, life over before its begun because of one night of unprotected sex. If the characters in Kidulthood veer to close to stereotypes, it only better paints them as statistics, another number for the system. Madrell could be playing, not just this particular trapped girl, but every pregnant teen in London. Ameen and Madrell’s characters are made all the more decent, due to some of the downright cruelty of the other characters. Jaime Winstone, daughter of Ray Winstone, plays Madrell’s best friend, a character who you start the film wanting to like, but grows into a despicable figure, the very image of a bad role model, dragging Madrell through bad situation after bad situation, the worst case type of peer pressure. Noel Clarke also provides fine support, as the figure everyone on the street fears, the violent big man on the block, who really should be behind bars, but for whatever reason prowls the street, dishing out misery and torment wherever he goes. Perhaps the main character of Kidulthood is actually London itself, an oppressive giant of a city, hemming in its characters and trapping them on paths that, depressingly, seem far too fixed for anyone to get off of. While some have criticised this movie for the predictable conclusion, although one particular shock might surprise, perhaps that is the power of the story. Of course, it is going to end how it does. It is the grim inevitability that fuels the despair of a teenager growing up in the poorer parts of London.
Kidulthood is far from perfect however. For one, while a snapshot of urban London life is intriguing to some, others will find no sympathy for the foul-mouthed, fast-talking characters here. The first ten minutes are needed just to acclimatise to the slang and way of speaking of the characters. I have had better luck deciphering foreign films than I have Kidulthood. There is also an argument to be made that there are a few too many nasty characters. You might struggle to wonder who you are might to like and who you are meant to want dead. Madrell might provoke sympathy or frustration as a girl trapped in a downward spiral. Ameen might be the hero in a situation beyond his control, or a boy running from the responsibilities of being a man. Other characters like Adam Deacon’s strong-headed best friend will be liked depending on the viewer’s taste in rogue-types. Then there are the characters who just feel they belong in another movie. Gritty realism is always a few moments away from being undermined by plot points that feel far too stylised or surreal. Ameen’s gun-selling uncle chews scenery and pulls the film right out of its drama roots. Perhaps it is an attempt to please a younger crowd, who might not be willing to put up with a drama that doesn’t at least try to add some gangster elements. It sticks Kidulthood in a rather middling position in terms of British drama, lifted from its movie standing with some fresh direction, a pulsing soundtrack and just enough invention to add flavour.
Final Verdict: If you are willing to put up with the teenage stereotypes, there is a strong, disturbing story at the heart of Kidulthood which is compelling to behold.