Very much a first-time British indie film, Jellyfish makes smart use of location and character to build up a powerful and engaging bit of social realism.
Liv Hill stars as Sarah, a 15-year-old studying for her GCSEs at a Margate comprehensive. Mainly, though, she’s looking after her younger siblings while their mum sleeps all day in a fug of depression, uselessness and mental illness.
Sarah also has a job at the sea-front arcade, a job she supplements by giving hand jobs to old men down the back alley.
While she’s bullied and shunned by her classmates at school, her drama teacher does spot something in her defiant anger and tells her to watch stand-up comedians such as Bill Hicks, Frankie Boyle and Joan Rivers.
Sarah begins writing material, quips and retorts, and insults – her life, after all, is like one long heckle. But at every turn her chances seem to be thwarted, especially when her Mum’s uselessness means their home is under threat of repossession and the social services could come and take the kids into care.
Liv Hill is excellent, a fire-cracker performance you root for and I’d pay to see her stand-up routine. So often these go wrong in movies – even in Mrs Maisel they’re not great – but hers is good and confrontational and shocking.
Credit to first-time director and writer James Gardner. He shoots Margate like the opening sequence of Manhattan, establishing shots of the pretty bits (harbour, Turner, winding old town streets) gradually getting more tawdry, from Dreamland to the arcades to the chip shops, the tower block, the crumbling lido, the magistrates court and the housing estate where Liv’s leccy is cut off again.
There’s anger here, but also a lot of love and some hope in intelligence and resourcefulness. I thought of The Florida Project and I Daniel Blake, and Liv Hill’s open, tear-stained face like a full moon waiting to shine from behind the clouds of the British seaside.