Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Chavtastic: A Review of Andrea Arnold's Wasp

What is Arnold’s twenty eight minute short film trying to tell its audience about the world and cinema’s portrayal of it today? While not being familiar with any of Arnold’s previous works and their comparative styles, I would not profess an absolute understanding. I would, however, wager that she is playing upon the viewer’s social conscious.

This is a film review I wrote back in 2009 for the short film Wasp, this was done as a first year Film and Screen Studies assignment. Together with its companion piece A Serious Man Who Stares at Goats, this comprised one assignment in which I had to demonstrate my understanding of film reviewership and analysis. 

Additionally, as I eventually elected to restart my first year, I had re-submitted a new version of this assignment the following year.

The writing style of this piece is very clunky, as I was still mastering my understanding of English grammar at the time. Here I have only minutely polished the original review that was intended for a Sight and Sight/cinephile readership.

A Review of Andrea Arnold's Wasp

Now, while I am not familiar with any of Andrea Arnold’s previous work, indeed jaws have hit the ground when I announce this, I can see quite clearly from her 2003 short film Wasp that Arnold is not a director who minces words or images. 

Wasp concerns itself with single mum Zoe (Natalie Press) and her three young daughters: Kelly (Jodie Mitchell), Sinead (Molly Griffiths), Leanne (Kaitlyn Raynor) and baby boy Kai (Danny Daily). The primary struggle and conflict of the film is drawn from Zoe’s toil of motherhood and her inability to be a responsible mother and maintain the well being of her children. This is further thrown into distress with the arrival of David (Danny Dyer) whom Zoe can see potential with but her children become an obstacle to this prospect. This forces her and the children into an awkward situation and even more so shocking climax. 

As well as being directed by Arnold Wasp also had its screenplay written by her and the broken speech of everyday life which is littered throughout the film demonstrates Arnold’s strength as a screenwriter. In addition to having a good ear Arnold also has a good eye as with the mise-en-scene beautifully captures the hungry world of Zoe and her children. Although, the hand held cinematography in films of recent years has, like slow motion before it, lost much of its impact due to its frequent overuse; no thanks to Paul Greengrass here, in Wasp it is handled with enough subtlety that it serves its purpose in grounding the films gritty sensibility, though fifteen years earlier it would have been much more powerful.

Wasp is an intently realistic film which pierces right through to the core of modern life at the poorer end of the spectrum. It makes the viewer take notice to the truth of what can be found right on their doorstep. Arnold feels like the sort of director who wants to shake things up, in society and in modern cinema and put the spectator in an awkward situation by challenging their ideals of modern society’s beliefs. 

Indeed, within the first few minutes of Wasp we see the films protagonist Zoe start a cat fight with her neighbour: Bullet-head (Lizzie Colbert) whom smacked one of her daughters. This single event presents both Zoe’s greatest strength but also her greatest weakness as she continually, throughout the film, acts on impulse. If only she governed her strong impulses with hard thinking she might escape from her vicious cycle of self destructions and more importantly the self destruction towards her children, as evidenced later when she leaves them to fend for themselves in a pub car park on a Saturday night. Zoe is the archetypal benefit dependant young mum (and much praise should be directed towards Natalie Press for the portrayal). Zoe wants a better life and as such she idolizes Victoria Beckham: “Victoria Beckham my ass”, Bullet-head taunts, and indeed Zoe is nothing like Victoria Beckham but Like the Wasp trapped behind the glass window Zoe wants to escape from her suffocating life. 

She seemingly sees potential for this with the arrival of old flame: David (Dyer again plays his usual cockney typecast) whom Zoe identifies as her David Beckham. Everything about David’s introduction adds an air of fresh prestige to his presence; as well as demonstrating Arnold’s skill as a filmmaker. The very smooth medium shot that moves over Zoe’s shoulder to reveal David looking keenly out his car window has a slight soft focus to present the visual apprehension of pleasant surprise both on Zoe’s account but also on the audience’s account who, like myself, would doubtless be surprised to see Dyer appear in this film. This is significant because everyone asides from Dyer is relatively unknown, Natalie Press I had only seen previously acting opposite Emily Blunt in Pawel Pawlikowski 2004s My Summer Of Love. The fact, though, that Dyer is such a high profile actor adds to this idealization of him embodying David Beckham which in Zoe’s mind represents a world much bigger than herself. She is trapped in a life she wants only to escape from: “I’ve not had a night out in fucking ages” Zoe later snaps to her daughter. Zoe’s children are a burden and even when David asks: “What you doing with all those fucking kids?” Zoe denies that they are even hers and that she is looking after them for someone else. Zoe’s Children and her attitude towards them act as the plate of glass stopping the wasp from getting out into the world. And it is this attitude that sets the foundation for the film’s shocking climax.

What is Arnold’s twenty eight minute short film trying to tell its audience about the world and cinema’s portrayal of it today? While not being familiar with any of Arnold’s previous works and their comparative styles, I would not profess an absolute understanding. I would, however, wager that she is playing upon the viewer’s social conscious. In particular of the British social conscience; this country after all has the highest teenage birth rate of all Europe and makes you wonder about the actual age of Zoe. Could she also have come from that large group of teenage mums? The fact that she has four children and the oldest looking at least to be around ten adds leverage to this line of thought. Could Arnold be suggesting that the attitudes towards this subject have to change? If not to reduce the figures then at least to allow these mothers to develop into mature and responsible guardians for their children. Could it be that Zoe is the product of her environment and that we and not she are to blame for her children’s welfare? Arnold is slapping the spectator in the face and showing them the uncomfortable and largely feared terrain of cinema: the reality of everyday life.

Is Arnold further saying that film has become too commercial and high budget? And, like Zoe, cinema and the spectator just want to get away from the spectre of everyday life, we all find ourselves trapped in, and glamorise ourselves in high budget dreams of Victoria Beckham. Perhaps, as cinema goers, we have to learn to appreciate and accept the smaller details and realise that events of everyday life are full of as much pathos and cinematic grandeur as any high budget blockbuster or celebrity figure. And it is only when this is accepted that cinema can evolve further as an art form or fall victim to the complacency of cheap and shallow thrills. 

Whatever Arnold’s intended readings, Wasp is a film that is broad and brave in the presentation of its subject matter and it is no wonder that such a film that quite perfectly encapsulates themes of poverty and despair, right on the doorstep, won the Oscar for live action short film. However, the film suffers from one major flaw. Indeed upon viewing it for a second time I was hard pressed to extract anything I had not extracted from the first viewing for all the weight the film held in shock value was lost. Wasp, like an Edgar Allen Poe short story is felt and experienced most prominently in its first and uninterrupted sitting. The film lacks enough ambiguity or further expansion of theme for a sustained interest over multiple showings. Yet, Wasp may only be a one hit wonder but it is still a film that is definitely worth seeing that one time. 

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