Rocks starts with a beautifully natural and infectious scene of a group of high school girls, mostly but not exclusively BAME, laughing and mucking around, obviously part of an easy and genuine friendship group. You find out later that some of them have money, others not, they all have worries; some big some small, but right there in that moment anything that may set them apart is irrelevant. What is important is the sense of sisterhood that holds them together. The movie ends with a very similar moment and this, almost more than what comes in between, is what makes it such a joy.
Rocks has been compared to Céline Sciamma’s Girlhood, and for good reason as both films explore the bond that exists between young women, but actually I found it equally reminiscent of two other movies; Capernaum and The Florida Project because, just as with those films, it is parental responsibility and adolescent independence that fuels the plot. In fact here it often isn’t a joy but still the film retains its warmth.
The lead character Rocks, so called because of her steadfast defence and support of friends in trouble, is sixteen and lives with her younger sibling and mum. When their mum leaves with little explanation though, Rocks is required to look after her brother and herself and ends up going on the run for fear that social services will find out and separate them. Like the similarly themed Capernaum, that had twelve year old Zain caring for a baby alone on the streets of Beirut, and The Florida Project that showed six year old Moonee defending and occupying herself around the bleached streets and parks of The Sunshine State while her mother runs scams, Rocks also has a great sense of the place in which it is set (Girlhood has this too, to be fair). It isn’t Lebanon, America or France in this case though as Rocks tells a story much closer to home. As much as painting an authentic picture of these kid’s lives it also features an honest depiction of modern London. There are no montage clips of Eros and Black Cabs or helicopter shots of the Thames here though. This is Shoreditch and the multicultural nature of the area and the traditions of the different girls is a big part of the film. It is just a part of the story here though, not the whole thing like in Bend it Like Beckham or even Bullet Boy. It is more universal that that. Rocks isn’t about being black or Asian, it just has Black and Asian kids and their lives at the centre of it.
The performances from the almost entirely female and almost all teenage cast are fantastic too. Bukky Bakray is the stand out in the lead but Kosar Ali as her best friend Sumaya is also superb and is probably the dependable heart of the film. Her unquestioning loyalty to her friend is easily as touching as Rocks devotion to her brother even if the emotion of this is quieter. Director Sarah Gavron and writers Theresa Ikoko and Claire Wilson (read the full credits and there’s barely a boys name to be seen) have done a stunning job putting the film together and prompting the best from an adolescent cast with no acting experience behind them and potentially every acting experience ahead of them.
So yes, this is a film about a young black girl looking after herself and her brother and it is set in London but this isn’t what sets it apart. This is a film about being young and and having friends who will look out for you no matter what. It says more about being a girl than the recent Caitlin Moran film. Let out a loud feminist cheer if you want to then, that wouldn’t be inappropriate, but in the end, and the beginning, it is wonderful because of how it captures and celebrates real female companionship.