D: Chris Foggin / 87m
Cast: Will Poulter, Alma Jodorowsky, Jamie Blackley, Sebastian De Souza, Preston Thompson, Cara Delevingne, Gala Gordon, Geraldine Somerville, Pip Torrens
Ahhh… to be young and in love… Movies about teenagers attempting to deal with their feelings when in the flush of first love are plentiful, so any new movie trying to tell such a well established story needs to bring something new to the table. Kids in Love, co-scripted by co-stars De Souza and Thompson, does its best but while it’s enjoyable enough and features a terrific performance from Poulter, the drama is lacking and the romance is too bittersweet.
Poulter plays Jack, heading off to university but taking a gap year to travel to South America with his best friend, Tom (Blackley), and take up an internship at a law firm. His life seems set on its course: gap year, university, work as a lawyer (probably marriage and 2.4 children), but Jack is a little restless. He’s not sure he wants the life his parents (Somerville, Torrens) expect of him, but he doesn’t know how to change things. With doubt nagging away at the back of his mind, fate steps in in the form of French girl, Evelyn (Jodorowsky). Carefree and open-minded, she’s the antithesis of the girls Jack knows, and when she invites him to drop in anytime at a bar she frequents, he’s quick to take up the offer.
Through Evelyn and her group of friends – Cassius (Thompson), Viola (Delevingne) and Elena (Gordon) – Jack is introduced to a world that completely alters the way he views his own life. Free-spirited and seemingly impervious to the more mundane aspects of everyday life, Evelyn et al pursue and enjoy a never-ending party-style existence where responsibility is positively discouraged. Jack finds himself being won over by this hedonistic lifestyle, so much so that his home life and friendship with Tom begins to falter. Smitten with Evelyn – though she has a boyfriend, Milo (De Souza) – Jack spends more and more of his time with this new group of friends he’s made, and in the process he tells Tom he doesn’t go to South America anymore, and he quits the internship before he even starts.
He also learns something about Milo that Evelyn doesn’t know about, but resists telling her. Making the decision to leave home, he heads for Viola and Elena’s place (where everyone hangs out during the day) hoping to crash there, and arrives just as Evelyn and Milo have had a huge row. Viola suggests the two of them get away for a while at her family’s place in the country. Jack and Evelyn take off, but when they arrive, their first night alone together leads to what may well prove to be a mistake that ruins their relationship irrevocably.
Again, movies about young love are plentiful, and Kids in Love, though made with an obvious amount of care and thought, still manages to fall short in its aspirations. That’s because there are only so many ways you can make a compelling story out of “boy-meets-girl, boy-falls-in-love-with-girl, girl-loves-boyfriend, boy-waits-for-chance-to-be-with-girl” and make it seem fresh. To be fair, it appears that co-writers Thompson and De Souza are aware of this, which is why it’s a shame that the movie isn’t more successful in achieving its aims, but given the path they’ve taken narratively, it’s not surprising. And while Jack is engaging and enjoyable company – thanks in no small measure to Poulter’s winning performance – Evelyn is the enigma that he, and the audience, have to contend with.
By making Evelyn so “complex” – or awkward, depending on your point of view – Thompson and De Souza paint themselves and the character into a corner. Her relationship with Milo is clearly an unequal one, and he’s abusive towards her at almost every opportunity. The script never manages to explain why she stays with him, or why an alternative life/relationship with Jack is so impossible. Without these distinctions, Evelyn’s interest in Jack becomes a convenience that keeps the storyline going, but which proves frustrating for the audience. And any prolonged interest in Jack’s pursuit of her – which means his looking forlornly at her at every opportunity – wears thin also. In the end it’s a relationship you can’t actually root for.
With the central romance lacking the necessary spark to keep it interesting, the audience has to look for distractions elsewhere. Thankfully, Thompson and De Souza do manage to make the carefree, wild-child lifestyle of Jack’s new friends look and sound like something we’d all want to be a part of, and though things never get too hedonistic (the beginnings of a threesome in a bathroom is the closest it gets), there aren’t any darker strands involving drugs either. Milo’s “occupation” is the nearest the movie gets to being edgy or upsetting, and even then it’s all over in the blink of a scene. Add to that a clumsy “break up” between Jack and Tom (“Why are you in my room, Tom?”), and you can appreciate that Thompson and De Souza’s inexperience as writers is the movie’s biggest handicap.
Overseeing it all is first-time feature director Foggin. Best known as third assistant director on movies such as The Iron Lady (2011) and The World’s End (2013), Foggin exercises a steady control over the material but keeps things bland and unremarkable for the most part, and there are certain scenes that should be much more affecting and dramatic than they actually are. It’s not hard to watch overall, and Foggin is helped by good performances all round, especially from Poulter who makes Jack’s initial, unaffected nervousness a joy to behold, but when everything is put together the movie lacks cohesion or a central relationship that is strong enough to carry the rest of the material along with it. In fact, sometimes it feels very much like it’s the other way round.
Rating: 6/10 – an appealing, funny, low-key movie with lively performances and a good sense of the milieu it wants to portray, Kids in Love nevertheless falls short of being the terrific little charmer it should have been; that said, it’s still head and shoulders over most of the low budget movies being made in the UK, and it at least tries, something that on this occasion, should be applauded.