The late Carrie Fisher once said that “If my life wasn’t funny it would just be true, and that is unacceptable,” and this is what springs to life through the eyes of fifteen-year-old Sarah Taylor.
Growing up in the seaside town of Margate in Kent, things are especially tough for young Sarah. With a mother who is incapable of looking after her and her two younger siblings, Sarah acts as the sole caretaker for them and her mother – working long hours at the local arcade and performing sexual favours to earn any extra bits of cash she can. However, through the guidance of her drama teacher, Sarah finds solace in comedy. She channels her rage into a stand-up routine, using her real-life issues to find the funny in her life.
New comer Liv Hill gives a performance beyond her years as Sarah. Able to perfectly encapsulate the inner workings of a guarded yet young teenager in a very adult world, Hill shines. She is truly the heart of this film and is captivating on screen. Each shot showcases Hill’s talent perfectly, showing the layered depth of Sarah with just a simple glance. That, along with the performance of Sinead Matthews as Karen Taylor (Sarah’s mother) were the two stand outs of the film.
Though in spite of the stand out performances, I had a few minor gripes with Jellyfish. Firstly, being the comedic inspiration chosen for Sarah. Despite making a big effort to include some of the bigger female names in comedy such as Victoria Wood and Katherine Ryan, these names are simply thrown into the wind during Sarah’s research. Instead, we are only given one famous – and albeit controversial – name to spark Sarah’s comedic interest: Frankie Boyle. Frankie Boyle’s style of comedy is brash and unforgiving, which admittedly suits Sarah’s personality to a ‘T’. However, I feel that this was a missed opportunity to highlight female influences in comedy, especially as such an effort was there to include their names by Sarah herself. And although Boyle’s inclusion in the film was relevant to the film’s climax – with Sarah giving a short monologue about how rape jokes aren’t funny after Boyle was famously quoted saying otherwise – there was still room for other influences. Sarah was given a list of incredible comics to be inspired by, and the fact that it was only Boyle that was referenced fell flat.
Along with this, the relationship between Sarah and her drama teacher, Mr Hale (Cyril Nri) felt underdeveloped. We see them on screen together for no more than ten minutes across the entire film and I felt desperate to see more. The relationship between Sarah and her teacher is key to the plot – her teacher is the reason for her introduction to comedy – and I felt that this relationship could’ve been much more of a driving force for the film. Instead, these two characters barely pass each other by and it isn’t until the end of the film that her teacher truly understands Sarah’s struggles and the relationship between them is strained and weak, crying out for more.
Courtesy of Hill’s incredible performance as Sarah, Jellyfish thrives as a powerful and heart-breaking piece. We are given a small glimpse into the dark world that Sarah forces herself into despite her young age, just to keep her family afloat and some scenes are truly heart-wrenching to watch. We feel for Sarah, who acts more like an adult than her mother, and ache for her to find the funny in her life. However, to misquote Carrie Fisher, sometimes the truth just isn’t funny; sometimes it’s just true.
Dir: James Gardner
Prd: James Gardner, Simon Lord, Sian Clarke, Marie-Elena Dyche
Scr: James Gardner, Simon Lord
Cast: Liv Hill, Sinead Matthews, Cyril Nri, Angus Barnett, Tomas Eames
DoP: Peter E. Riches
Music: Victor Hugo, Fumagalli
Running time: 101 minutes
Jellyfish will be released on Digital on 24th June