Justine is available to rent, stream or buy now.
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, and Jamie Patterson’s sweet, emotional and tender film was a runaway success with the audience. Therefore, my hopes were 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 and fragments placed online. But Justine has now finally arrived 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, while drug use continues to dominate the narrative, little focus is placed 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*. It is, therefore, welcome to see Patterson’s Justine place alcoholism centre stage.
*British Medical Journal.
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Justine (Tallulah Haddon) is estranged from her family, on probation and, on her own. The water bottle she carries with her religiously is full of vodka stolen from a local store, her life a mix of heavy drinking, financial worries and brief moments of sobriety. However, when Justine meets Rachel (Sophie Reid), a trainee teacher, her world suddenly becomes slightly brighter. Rachel finds herself intrigued by Justine’s aloofness and need for human contact and care. But, can Rachel help Justine overcome the alcohol-fuelled devil that sits on her shoulder?
Just like Tucked, Justine is rooted in Patterson’s love for Brighton. But here, the city is viewed through a far more sombre lens. Here the streets, beaches and tight alleyways reflect Justine’s isolation and her inability to escape the bottle slowly killing her. Meanwhile, the love story at the heart of the film is bittersweet, as Justine finds a connection but struggles to allow it to flourish due to her demons. Patterson’s film shines in the complex relationship between Justine and Rachel, with both Haddon and Reid’s performances wrapped in complexity, love and fear.
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However, Justine struggles to define its core narrative as an addiction story. Here the back story of its main character remains hidden from the viewer, never allowing for emotional connection. Meanwhile, Patterson opts to embellish the story’s darkness in both the score and cinematography. While understandable given the subject matter, this, at times, only enhances the lack of emotional connection to Justine and the anger she keeps locked away. The result offers us a snapshot of Justine’s life that occasionally feels too narrow and restrictive.
However, despite this minor weakness, Haddon and Reid keep the movie engaging and urgent, their performances reflective of the damage and pain alcohol addiction can cause. Meanwhile, in direction, Patterson proves that Tucked was only the start of his journey, his skills in bringing us stories rooted in realism burning bright.