Directed by Jamie Patterson and written by Jeff Murphy, Justine is a love story set against the backdrop of Brighton and tracked by a violent and puzzling tale of a young woman’s descent into self-destruction. She meets Rachel and love takes over. At first it heals, but Justine’s pain goes deep, and soon a new battle commences, more urgent and angry than anything she has ever before experienced. Starring: Tallulah Haddon, Sophie Reid, Sian Reese-Williams, Steve Oram and Xavien Russell.
It’s clear from the beginning that Justine (Haddon) is a fragile, sensitive and vulnerable young woman, watching her struggle to balance her emotions and life with alcoholism and kleptomania is a melancholy experience. The themes of depression and addiction come through strongly in a way that’s relatable and poignant but the progression and direction of the story doesn’t make the most of them. It doesn’t dive deeply enough to draw out a much more raw emotion, it’s lingering on the surface which is effective but only for so long. It doesn’t try to explore the characters’ backgrounds and flesh out their personalities, particularly Rachel (Reid), she becomes a big presence in the film but very little is actually known about who she is. However, it all keeps moving along well enough up until the ending. What then transpires is a cheap and easy, overly sentimental wrapping up of events, doing utter injustice to the themes of its story. It’s a sincere let down to end the film on such a saccharine and weak note.
The performances on the other hand are touching, Haddon’s Justine has a very unique charm to her and she brings through that vulnerability excellently. It would be really easy to overplay your hand with a role like this but Haddon keeps it understated. Reid is a wonderful pairing for her, they have a slightly awkward but sweet chemistry that convincingly develops into something deeper. Although, it feels as though they could have been given more of a challenge at times to really show their blossoming relationship, rather than mostly just through affection. Xavien Russell is a great addition, he brings a much bigger personality and positivity to the film. His character adds a warmth and support that’s charming to watch.
Patterson’s direction feels very familiar in the realm of British indie dramas, it doesn’t stand out but it does genuinely bring through the emotion and more grounded side to the story. It could have taken more risks, it does play it a little safe considering the fairly dark nature of its story but its style does work, especially when things get more sentimental. The type and frequency that it uses pop style music was probably a slight hint at the direction it was headed in, it’s the sort of inclusion that immediately makes it feel more lightweight than it should.
Justine is a touching story of a fragile young woman but ultimately, the choices made by these filmmakers do it a disservice. Tallulah Haddon and Sophie Reid give great performances that solidly build the heart of the film but it feels as though there was much more to explore. There are a lot of elements that showed potential for a more affecting, harrowing story but it seems as though they decided instead to play it safe.