Two For Joy Review
Despite being nominated for two Oscars in her career, Samantha Norton has been surprisingly absent from the big screen over the past decade. Her focus has largely been on TV work domestically, a choice you would assume is one of preference rather than a lack of opportunity to pursue her career in film. Two for Joy sees her return with a quiet and nuanced performance in Tom Beard’s directorial debut about a single mother struggling to raise her kids while battling depression.
The reasons for Aisha’s (Morton) darkened state of mind only comes to light midway through the film, although the absence of a particular figure points towards the reasons why. She is mother to 15-year-old Violet (Emilia Jones) and her younger brother Troy (Badger Skelton), although much of the parenting responsibilities fall upon the shoulders of her daughter due to Aisha’s depression.
Dialogue is kept to a minimum throughout the film and Beard largely relies on observing his characters as means of immersing us into their lives. This works well at first as he focusses on Troy who has been expelled from school and is becoming increasingly distanced from his mother and sister. The two siblings are struggling to get by with a mother who is completely disengaged with the world, but it is Troy who is in the most danger of going right off the rails.
A trip to an old seaside family caravan provides an opportunity for the family to get away for a while but a tragic event awaits that will either bring them closer together or tear them apart. Even at this stage Beard’s distance from the characters never changes and it becomes increasingly difficult to empathise or understand their thinking. This remains true even after they make friends with the caretaker of the caravan park, Lias (Daniel Mays), his sister Lilah (Billie Piper) and her troubled daughter Miranda (Bella Ramsey), where you would hope the bringing together of two dysfunctional families could add more meat to the narrative.
Mays’ character offers the most dialogue and despite being the most ‘together’ of the adults there are small hints of a troubled personal life involving his own children. Young Skelton has a charismatic presence but too many scenes seem to end with either Troy or Miranda running off in furious silence leaving an adult alone and calling out in frustration. Beard doesn’t want to over explain the emotions of his characters but pins his hopes too heavily on an atmosphere that isn’t enough to provide the insight we need.
All of the performances are fine, although there isn’t much for Morton to work with to fully develop her character. Piper remains on the edges of the story and Mays brings the sort of grounded warmth and spirit he usually does so well. Emilia Jones shows real promise for the future and Skelton also shows strong signs of potential. Beard puts the best of intentions into his debut film but it remains too slight to ever fully realise them.