“They wouldn’t employ you as a speed bump”, exclaims 15 year old Sarah Taylor (Liv Hill) at her bipolar mother (Sinéad Matthews), who struggles to find the strength to get out of the house to the job centre once a week to sign for benefits.

Sarah becomes the primary caretaker of her two younger siblings. She takes them to school, picks them up and brings them home, before starting her evening shift at a seafront arcade in dreary Margate, where she gives hand jobs to old men in a back alley.

When her snarky remarks to her classmates catch the attention of her drama teacher, Adam (Cyril Nri), he sees that there is something going on in her life, though he doesn’t understand the full extent of it.

He sees beyond the façade of the unengaged teenager and suggests she tries her hand at stand-up comedy for the school’s end of year performance. He drops some names – Richard Pryor, George Carlin, Joan Rivers – for her to do her research. With little left to do but laugh at her dire conditions, Sarah starts writing jokes.

But Sarah doesn’t find redemption in her hidden talents. Nor does she have a knight in shining armour that sweeps by and saves her from her turmoil and despair

Jellyfish is a film of striking social-realism, sober yet gritty and truthful. An impressive zero-budget film from James Gardner, who makes a striking directorial debut that needs to be seen on the big screen to appreciate its charm. In every frame of this film you can see the passion that everyone involved put into it. The performance of  Hill is astonishing for her first feature and Cyril Nri was as much a mentor for her as his character was for Sarah.

Jellyfish is an independent film that is worth buying a ticket for and supporting in every possible manner, and it will be exciting to see what James Gardner will produce in the future.

5 stars

Image credit: Movie DB

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