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Sunday, November 23, 2008

KiDULTHOOD -- DVD review by porfle

First of all--this has got to be one of the worst titles I've ever seen. KiDULTHOOD (2006) sounds like a screwy Disney TV-movie, or yet another variation on BIG, or something equally distressing. When I found out what it's really about, I thought, "Oh, great...another angsty teen drama about a bunch of whiny young emos." But now that I've seen it, I can safely say that it's none of the above, and is, in fact, one of the most compelling, harrowing, and intense films I've seen all year.

The portrait of everyday inner city teen life presented here is a nightmare for the weak, whose ordinary school day means a grueling gauntlet of violence and humiliation at the hands of sadistic schoolmates. When one girl can't take the abuse anymore and hangs herself, school is cancelled the following day. This gives our main characters time to either reflect on their dead-end lives or escape into drugs, violence, and cheap thrills.

Two of the more decent kids, comparatively, are Trife (Aml Ameen) and his on-again, off-again girlfriend Alisa (Red Madrell). Trife hangs out with a couple of ne'er-do-wells named Jay and Mooney, and is toying with the idea of going to work for his really scary Uncle Curtis (Cornell John), a hardcore criminal type who promises easy money. Tensions between Trife's crew and a rage-a-holic school bully named Sam (scriptwriter Noel Clarke) escalate steadily, and we know that something really bad's going to happen before the day is over.

Alisa is worried because she just found out she's pregnant by Trife, who doesn't want anything to do with her because he thinks she's been having sex with Sam . Alisa's sex-obsessed friend Becky (Jaime Winstone) is no help--she gleefully whores herself out to older perverts to pay for drugs and shopping sprees, and is blissfully unconcerned with anyone's welfare but her own.

Clarke's script is lean and direct, capturing what I'd imagine to be an accurate portrait of these aimless, disaffected London youth who live on impulse and instinct, and converse in a dense, fascinating patois that's so foreign-sounding that I had trouble following it even with the subtitles on. Brushes with store security guards, sudden bursts of armed combat on the streets, and even a harrowing torture session in evil Uncle Curtis' apartment are presented in a straightforward, matter-of-fact way that is thrilling and scary. Through it all, the basic decency of Trife and Alisa struggles to survive the soul-crushing realities of their daily lives.

With the help of veteran cinematographer Brian Tufano (TRAINSPOTTING, QUADROPHENIA), Menhaj Huda directs his first feature with the confidence and skill of an old pro. Both his visual style and handling of actors are impeccable, giving each scene an edgy vitality that requires very little of the usual shaky-cam, jittery editing, and other stylistic clutter used to juice up so many contemporary films of this nature. KiDULTHOOD flows smoothly from scene to scene and is consistently impressive to look at, especially considering its low budget. A uniformly excellent cast is another plus, as is an evocative musical score by The Angel.

Everything comes to a head at a party that's being held in the home of a schoolmate whose parents are away. Trife and Alisa finally reunite to see if they can reconnect, and we want them to, but Noel Clarke's unsentimental screenplay guarantees no happy endings. Sam is there, too, looking to settle old scores. And to make things worse, the brother of the girl who hanged herself also shows up after paying a visit to Uncle Curtis to buy a gun, and he's looking for revenge. Needless to say, it's a situation that doesn't exactly scream "happily ever after."

The DVD image is 2:35.1 widescreen with Dolby digital sound. A half-hour featurette, "The Making of KiDULTHOOD", is a serious, in-depth look behind the scenes of the film. Also included are deleted and extended scenes, and a trailer.

To say I was pleasantly surprised by this film is putting it mildly. If you can get past the goofy title, KiDULTHOOD proves to be an impressive and richly rewarding experience, the kind that comes from talented filmmakers with a dedication to putting their vision on the screen without compromise.

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