Student Critic Dalia Al-Dujaili reviews
Balance, Not Symmetry
(Jamie Adams, UK, 2019)
Jamie Adams’ highly anticipated Balance, Not Symmetry in collaboration with Scottish band Biffy Clyro tells the coming-of-age story of Caitlin Walker (Laura Harrier), a young American girl entering her final year at Glasgow School of Art. Grieving from the recent passing of her father, she uses her art as a healing process through which the vulnerable bonds to the women in her life eventually grow stronger.
The opening prompts high hopes for the film’s fate with stunning cliffside views and intimate close-ups. However, the visuals are one of few salvageable qualities. Considering the film was shot in only five days, an undoubtedly impressive feat, one would assume that the story would focus on one particular arc – for example, the relationship between Caitlin and her mother, Mary (Kate Dickie), following the death of a father we never learn anything about, apart from a sports vest suggesting he was probably a basketball player.
But Adams, alongside co-writer Simon Neil, mistakenly attempts to explore not only a tokenistic alcoholism that hangs over Mary, from which she either finds no relief at the film’s finale or is miraculously cured, but irksome best friend Hannah’s (Bria Vinaite) irrelevant love life which adds little other than distraction to the film’s storyline. Clearly echoing the pangs of young adulthood but with an undecided tone and a subject matter in constant flux, the film’s sincerity becomes clouded and consequently loses any coherent vision. This came as a surprise considering Adams’ long list of relative successes such as last year’s Alright Now.
Performances too are lacking in depth or inspiration. There is a lack of fluidity running through the improvised dialogue, but this is not the actors’ fault. Bria Vinaite’s infinitely superior performance in The Florida Project is testament to this, but Hannah’s inability to muster much more than ‘that’s my granola’ during an argument with Caitlin sacrifices complexity for a disappointing realism.
However, a particular scene where Caitlin and her two-dimensional love interest wander through a museum provokes a charming fly-on-the-wall perspective. This is where the improvised dialogue works greatly to the film’s benefit – the subtlety and naturalism of the date echoes the cringe and awkwardness of young-love which every audience member writhing in their seat can relate to. And Biffy Clyro’s original score makes it slightly more bearable to sit through.