Justine is available to rent now on Curzon Home Cinema
A few years back, I sat in my favourite seat, E9, at the BFI Southbank NFT1, awaiting the world premiere of a new film called Tucked. The event was BFI Flare 2019; Jamie Patterson’s sweet, emotional and tender film a runaway success with the audience. In fact, it went on to gain a rare five-star review on this site. Hope was, therefore, high that Patterson’s return to BFI Flare in 2020 with Justine would prove just as successful. However, BFI Flare 2020 wasn’t to be, with the physical festival pulled shortly before its opening night, fragments placed online. It is, therefore, a pleasure to finally see Justine premiere on Curzon Home Cinema this weekend.
Over the past five years, there has been a resurgence of interest in the addiction drama, from Beautiful Boy to A Million Little Pieces and the upcoming Cherry on Apple TV +. However, drug use continues to dominate the narrative, with little focus on alcoholism and its devastating effects. I have often wondered why this is, as even though drug-related deaths continue to rise, with 4400 registered in England and Wales during 2019*. Alcohol-related deaths sat at 5460 from January to September 2020; 79% attributed to alcoholic liver disease*. With Patterson’s Justine, alcoholism is finally given a voice on-screen. The devastating effects of its harm seen through the eyes of a young woman living in Brighton.
*British Medical Journal.
Justine (Tallulah Haddon) lives in isolation, estranged from her family and on probation. Her life a mix of heavy drinking, financial worries and brief moments of sobriety. The water bottle she carries with her full of vodka stolen from a local store. However, when Justine meets Rachel (Sophie Reid), a trainee teacher, her world suddenly appears slightly brighter. And despite Rachel playing witness to Justine’s shoplifting, Rachel finds herself intrigued; Justine’s aloofness coupled with a need for human contact and care. But, can Justine overcome the devil that sits on her shoulder in connecting with Rachel? And can Rachel help Justine emerge from the bottle that rules her life before its too late?
While Justine once again demonstrates Patterson’s passion for Brighton, here, the city is viewed through a far more sombre lens than in Tucked. The streets, beaches and tight alleyways of its shops creating and reflecting a feeling of isolation that follows Justine. While the love story at the heart of the film is bittersweet, Justine finding a connection but reluctant to allow it to flourish due to her own demons. Within this story, Patterson’s film shines, the relationship between Justine and Rachel both real, emotional and tender in construct. Both Haddon and Reid’s performances full of complexity, love and fear.
However, as a story of addiction, Justine struggles to define its core narrative, the back story of its main character hidden from the viewer. While at the same time, Patterson opts to embellish the darkness in both score and tone. This, at times, creates a disconnect in truly identifying with Justine and the anger she keeps locked away, despite the outstanding performance of Haddon. And while it could be argued that the film’s artistic choice portrays a snapshot in time of Justine’s life and love, a more developed back story would only have enhanced the viewer’s emotional attachment.
However, despite this weakness, Haddon and Reid keep the movie engaging, urgent and fresh. And when their performances are placed alongside the need for films that reflect the damage and pain caused by alcohol addiction, Justine finds a unique voice. Equally, Patterson proves that Tucked was only the start of his directorial ambitions. His skill at bringing us stories rooted in realism once again burning bright. And while Justine may not quite reach the heights of his previous film, it does demonstrate the talent, vision and creativity of a director willing to challenge his audience.
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