An incredibly relatable coming of age story, Sophie Jones puts director and actress Jessie Barr on the map. As a debut and simply as a film, Sophie Jones brings many elements of adolescence into a complex narrative of exploration and loss. (GPG: 4/5)
Review by Contributing Editor Giorgi Plys-Garzotto
Anyone who was a theater kid in high school is going to relate, almost painfully, to Sophie Jones. The bildungsroman exploits of these ridiculous and privileged teens will strike a nerve with all of us who attended cast parties or enmeshed ourselves in tech week cliques. We all spent about 90% or more of our time imagining what others thought of us, while receiving all the developments of each others’ sex lives via telepathy the moment they occurred. During this sleazy yet innocent time in her life, Sophie Jones loses her mother and begins to unravel just as she’s coming into herself.
Sophie begins her sexual explorations right after her mother’s death, engaging in hookup culture in some ways as a way to forget her feelings of loss. It’s one of the film’s complex truths that this young woman and others like her has every right to cope in this way, and that her sexuality is not invalidated because of this element of her choices. Nor is it invalidated by the experiences she has that make her sexual development even harder through trauma. Sophie makes choices that are imperfect and she sometimes puts herself in risky situations, and that’s part and parcel of being in her developmental stage. Anyone trying to keep teenagers safe runs up against the uncomfortable truth that teens get into danger no matter what anyone does, and that’s kind of the point of being one.
The way Sophie resists all efforts on the part of other people to help her is one more thing that makes this film realistic–there’s nothing I hated more as a teenager than receiving the affection I craved. Sophie lashing out at the very people who care the most about her is one thing that makes her less likable but also the very thing that makes her most lifelike. When young people are consumed with grief along with the rest of their emotional work, they can often present in a way that isn’t exactly warm and fuzzy–I know I did.
Sophie’s choices often go from being imperfect to being downright inadvisable; she gets into fights with her friends that put her character’s flaws very much on display, and the way she treats the boys she hooks up with is pretty manipulative and egoistic. She is pretty irresponsible about birth control too, in a way that had me literally cringing to think of what could have happened to me at that age if I had acted the same way. At the same time, Sophie is funny and sensitive in a way people will relate to–if they aren’t too busy relating to the less savory aspects of her personality. Most of us will probably remember what it was like to be in such a whirl of insecurity and hormones, even if we haven’t experienced the kind of loss that Sophie has. At the very least, most of us had something going on in our lives to make the turmoil of adolescence even worse.
One thing I really enjoyed about Sophie Jones was the way it incorporates (seemingly) improvisational dialogue with the original script. In some films, notably Superbad and its ilk, the result of improv is just a race to the bottom where the actors try to find the most profane or off-putting thing they could possibly say in the moment. With Sophie Jones, the result is genuine, and genuinely funny, interactions between characters that feel real and sensitive throughout. This air of exploration brings us the moments that I felt brought me most strongly back to my high school relationships, as well as reminding me of intimacy in my current relationships as well. The documentary style of camerawork in the film also makes this improvisation feel realistic; the wavering eye of the camera weaves in, out and between the characters to capture the smallest details that contain the greatest truths.
All in all, Sophie Jones is about just that, Sophie Jones. She’s much like the other dubiously likable protagonists we’re being shown these days, like Lena Dunham and Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s ilk, but she’s missing the acerbic and disconnected tone that these two powerhouses of the current wave of feminist storytelling. She’s more of a real person, and her vulnerability isn’t treated in a comedic way like some HBO content does with its protagonists. Instead, Sophie Jones gets to be a person without there being any cynical spin on that. I’d recommend this one to anyone looking for a bittersweet and unflinching look at what growing up is like.
Yes! There are tons of conversations between Sophie and her best friend, who talk about boys but also all the other odds and ends teenage girls talk about.
Top Photo: Sophie Jones is a senior in high school.
Middle Photo: Sophie meditates on her choices and her losses.
Bottom Photo: Sophie has more challenges than most in growing up.
Photo Credit: The Sounding Board.