There is nothing sweet about the age of sixteen. Sixteen is the age of Sophie Jones (Jessica Barr), and she’s doing her best to cope with the loss of her mother. The loss has made her a little detached in some areas of her life; specifically, with her father (Dave Roberts) and younger sister, Lucy (Charlie Jackson). In other areas, it has awakened her.
Sexually, Sophie is finding herself as her hormones peak, whether it be with classmate Kevin (Skyler Verity) or senior Tony (Chase Offerle). Intercourse allows her to take control of her life and fill the void left behind by her mother. As everyone knows, feelings and general haziness are thrown into the blender as soon as sex is introduced. Sophie deals with these as she makes it through the remainder of her high school career.
One immediate comparison that Sophie Jones is likely to see is to 2017’s exquisite Lady Bird. Greta Gerwig’s indie feature was female-led and driven, using 2002 Sacramento as the backdrop for its coming-of-age story. The daughter/mother relationship drives both movies in a sense, with the massive difference being that in Sophie Jones, the mother isn’t actually there, but her presence is, making this movie semi-ethereal from beginning to end.
Tackling her first full-length film as a director is Jessie Barr, who also serves as a co-writer and co-producer alongside her starring cousin. Interesting enough, both Barr women lost a parent at sixteen, and one can see the personal influences that experience had from the eye of the director. In partnership with editor Naomi Sunrise Filoramo and cinematographer Scott Miller, Sophie Jones takes a lot of different stylistic tones and hues to represent its subject’s specific mental state. Sometimes, the editing is deliberately choppy and hot, other times, Barr and crew take a more subdued and cooler, unbroken approach. The descriptor to use is “moody,” like many teens can often be.
The story of Sophie Jones is focused on…Sophie Jones. That isn’t to say everyone around her is completely minimized, but, it is to say that the Barr women aren’t that concerned with Sophie’s family dynamics, what her friends mean to her (if they even mean anything), etc. All the people in Sophie’s life are simply meant to help her cope and heal with her own loss and fuel her personal exploration into womanhood. For a film that just crosses the 85-minute mark, this choice in approach works…mostly. But, since the film essentially is told over two years in a partly nonlinear way (the final 10 minutes see Sophie preparing her things to leave for college), the massive growth we’re supposed to see and recognize the lead character going through isn’t that realized. Perhaps with a bit more focus on the family and their role—if any—in Sophie’s progression would have solved a piece or two of this issue. Nevertheless, it goes without saying that Sophie Jones is predominantly dialogue driven, and its writers clearly have the pulse on what current teens sound like, which is more than what another recent coming-of-age flick in Boogie can say.
Much like her cousin, Jessica Barr inputs her personal experience in losing a loved one to her work. Her performance is raw and lived in. It is delicate yet determined, assertive yet aloof. Nary is there a frame in which the younger Barr isn’t in it. This is very much a film that follows her and only her from beginning to end, and it is impressive that she has so much command in what is her second feature film. As mentioned earlier, the über-myopic focus on the central character doesn’t provide other cast members to make much of a mark, outside of Verity. He plays well as the awkward but good-intentioned teen, providing an emotional link to Sophie that spurs her journey into self-discovery.
Quaint and intimate, Sophie Jones might lack storytelling precision. But, the story it does tell does not lack for sincerity and relatability.
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