“Whilst her protagonist is only just finding her feet, Eva Riley’s first feature oozes with confidence”
If there’s one thing that Glasgow Film Festival taught us this year, it’s that there’s a wave of exciting new female feature filmmakers on the horizon – Saint Maud’s Rose Glass, and Body of Water’s Lucy Brydon being just two examples.
Eva Riley is another. Her debut feature Perfect 10 is a Brighton-based coming-of-age film about Leigh (Frankie Box), a young gymnast struggling with the realities of living below the bread-line and a lack of family support when a half-brother that she never knew existed (Joe, played by Alfie Duggan) comes into her life. Joe brings chaos with him, involving Leigh in his criminal activities – but he also puts a true smile on her face, opening her up to experience kinship, desire, and all the other heady emotions that come with being a teenage girl.
Box and Duggan both make their acting debuts in Perfect 10. Their natural charm gives them instant warmth and relatability, and the space in Riley’s screenplay for improvisation allows the banter between the duo to seem effortless. Box has a particularly effective presence; her mane of dark curls and intense gaze of a girl that has no space in her life to be vulnerable gives Leigh an aloof but sympathetic nature, and that Box does all the gymnastics herself makes her performance all the more impressive.
The dynamic of Leigh and Joe’s relationship is complex but utterly convincing. Leigh is extremely wary of him at first, having had to fend for herself for so long thanks to an absent mother and a massively unreliable father (William Ash). But as they slowly get more familiar, Joe’s attention becomes Leigh’s lifeblood. To her, he blurs the lines between being a familial figure, a fatherly one, and an object of female attraction, and director Riley pulls off this blend exquisitely.
Shot largely in close ups of Leigh’s face, Perfect 10 shows us the world from her perspective. Reminiscent of Andrea Arnold’s Fish Tank, it’s a world that feels distinctly British – there’s rolling green hills adjacent to suburban grey streets, gangs of teenagers milling about in hoodies, and a warm sunny glow that evokes the endless possibilities held in the school summer holidays of our youth. With plot thin on the ground, this is more a snapshot of a life; a few months that Leigh would look back on as the time where things started looking up, and when she began believing in herself again.
Whilst her protagonist is only just finding her feet, Eva Riley’s first feature oozes with confidence. Her subjective style and trust in her actors comes through to give a sense of freedom, and tells a story that is as uplifting and wholesome as it is dark and troubling. Just like Leigh sticking the landing in that iconic blue leotard, Perfect 10 delivers a near-faultless character study full of heart and soul and subtle brilliance. Let’s hope it’s not too long before we see more from those who made it.
Director: Eva Riley
Writer: Eva Riley
Producers: Bertrand Faivre, Valentina Brazzini, Jacob Thomas
Cast: Frankie Box, Alfie Duggan, William Ash, Sharlene Whyte
Images courtesy of iFeatures.