Movie Review: Coming of age, dealing with loss — “Sophie Jones”

There is no crying, no overt expressions of grief. But we can feel the loss in this house.

Everybody is “processing it,” as we say these days, an expression that sanitizes death in ways that surely Hallmark and the funeral home industry would approve.

But “Sophie Jones” is 16. If Dad (Dave Roberts) isn’t openly weeping, and older sister Lucy (Charlotte Jackson) isn’t breaking down, if we’re not seeing or hearing her friends and classmates offering sympathy, can Sophie figure out on her own what to do after “the funeral,” the one they had for her mother?

Writer-director Jessi Barr’s sweet but edgy debut feature doesn’t follow any conventional movie path about dealing with grief. Sophie, like the rest of her family, seems fine. She hangs with her BFF Claire (Claire Manning), talks candidly and crudely about boys, jokes around with her fellow student actors and frets over her performance in the school play.

But something more is going on. She comes on, directly and innocently, to a castmate, Kevin (Skyler Verity). And then she runs away. She argues with Claire, and that’s it for the “best friends.” They’re finished, too. Other friends and boyfriends are embraced and pushed away.

She smiles and laughs, but she seems numbed, drained and a little lost.

Jessica Barr, the director’s cousin, co-wrote and stars as Sophie, giving us an unaffected kid who is acting on impulse, looking to feel something, anything. Maybe it’s sexual, maybe it’s more of a response from her family.

“What are we gonna do with all these flowers” after the funeral? She talks her sister into getting into the tub, full of water covered in flower petals. Sophie photographs her.

She is impatient to get this or that “out of the way,” eager to lose her virginity, losing herself in punk pop abandon when she’s alone in the car, taking a hard look at her mother’s leftover pain pills.

This or that boy catches her eye and the older girls coach her how to approach them. “It’s the chase he’s after.”

But the close friends are the ones she hurts as she herself hurts. “All these intense things happening in my life,” she shrugs. And if anybody dares suggest a reason? “It doesn’t have anything to do with my mother.”

The Barr cousins give us a film of novel scenes, comical moments of sexual experimentation which have a few laughs and a little pathos.

Plenty of predictable things happen, but even scenes that set you up for something take the path less traveled as they unfold. Like Sophie, we start craving a “release” that isn’t within our reach.

It’s a film of family routines and warm intimacies and somber, silent reveries, with one poignant moment that promises to be a lot bigger than it plays.

But Jessica Barr never breaks character in a way that reminds us that for a lot of kids, big emotional responses are something reserved for TV and movie melodrama, not life.

A real teenager might work through something like this afraid of showing tears, channeling her energy into distractions, overcompensation, groping for gratification and affirmation to fill a void.

That’s the performance Jessica Barr gives us and the movie Jessi Barr builds around her, a sad coming-of-age story told in muted, almost-jokey tones by a heroine not mature enough to respond any other way.

MPA Rating: unrated, sexual situations, teen drinking, drugs, profanity

Cast: Jessica Barr, Skyler Verity, Charlotte Jackson, Claire Manning and Dave Roberts

Credits: Directed by Jessie Barr, script by Jessie Barr and Jessica Barr. An Oscilloscope Laboraties release.

Running time: 1:25

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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