Jellyfish is actress Liv Hill’s film. It is a volcanic performance portraying a teenager about to blow but when and how and exactly what devastation will be wreaked is ours to watch and wait for, heart in mouth.
Sarah is a 15 year old schoolgirl caring for twin siblings half her age and what appears to be a bi-polar, alcoholic mother. The deal is that Sarah does everything and says nothing to anyone as long as mum, Karen, remembers to sign on so the rent is at least paid. Sinead Matthews portrays the family matriarch with truly terrifying and wretched abandon; swinging between giggling, delirious highs and vicious, cruel miserable lows, disappearing for days on end or just not leaving her bed. The impossibility of living with such a volatile, unreadable, manipulative sickness unfolds throughout the film as Sarah copes and copes and copes. Set in supposedly up-and-coming Margate this is a story of marginalised, small town Britain, the families that live hand to mouth in such a state of precariousness they are literally moments away from cold, hunger and homelessness. With one silent click the electric is run out and Sarah is left without water to finish her shower or feed the children the instant noodles they have for dinner. They have them cold, like cereal, with the promise of crisps and chocolate to come.
Working in an amusement arcade to bring in the only family income Sarah is also forced to supplement her wages servicing the local dirty old men with hand jobs by the bins. Throughout this daily horror and wanting it to stop, I never felt pity for Sarah, I felt inspired and moved by her stoic nature, her indomitable spirit, by her absolute life force to make things work to keep her family together. Her quick wit and self-assurance showing her to be a unique and worthy person. A survivor and a fighter.
A lifeline gets thrown to Sarah early on in the film by her drama teacher Mr Hale, played with well balanced distance and empathy by Cyril Nri. He challenges her to write a stand up comedy routine. He sees she’s funny and hopes to help her channel the rage she brings into the classroom into something more constructive. He also reels off a very credible comedy watch list for her to view as homework including Frankie Boyle, Bill Hicks and Joan Rivers. Sarah initially resists but she soon feels the therapeutic benefit of cogitating and scribbling down her jokes, which she does throughout the film and it is wonderful to see her chuckling to herself lost in thought but all the while Rome is still burning. As well as a tour de force performance, Hill pulls off one of acting’s most difficult accomplishments in delivering a completely authentic stand up routine.
I was reminded of Andrea Arnold’s Fish Tank with Katie Jarvis’s stand out role as Mia and Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s extraordinary performance in Greg Araki’s Mysterious Skin in terms of capturing the teenage experience of emotional processing and, like both these incredible films, the hope does appear not in a cavalry but in the quiet grace of connection.Find your cinema and book tickets