When researching into a film’s director for a review, it’s always encouraging to discover that the title you’ve watched is their feature-length debut, having previously honed their craft in shorts and screenwriting. Tom Beard, the name behind British indie title Two for Joy is one such example of this practice working in a director’s favour.
Vi (Emilia Jones) is a quiet, studious teenager, living at home with her rowdy younger brother Troy (Badger Skelton) and mother Aisha (Samantha Morton). With no father figure at the helm of the household, Vi is left to care for Troy – who takes no notice of his sister – and her mother, who spends her days in bed, stuck under a dark cloud of depression. Working hard for her upcoming exams, Vi can feel the pressure, both at school and at home. Urging Aisha to take control of Troy, Vi plants the idea of the three of them escaping to the seaside for a much-needed break.
On arrival to the caravan park, the family meet caretaker Lias (Daniel Mays), along with his sister Lillah (Billie Piper) and niece Miranda (Bella Ramsey). The two families share similar chaotic home lives, and bond over their sadness, never explicitly discussed with one another but sensed. As Lillah encourages Aisha to emerge from her shell, Miranda and Troy bond over their damaged childhoods, two wayward children left to their own devices. Vi, the ever present sensible influence, is left to parent the pair of them, but when her focus slips for a second, they escape into the busy summer evening. Finding themselves in dangerously deep water, it’s up to Troy and Miranda to save each other before it’s too late.
Homegrown British cinema is known for its ‘realness’, relying on highly skilled actors to bring its characters to life without the glitz and glamour of a Hollywood budget. Beard does just that, with an incredible mix of well-known names and up-and-comers rounding off the cast list. Previously Oscar-nominated Morton, known for appearances in Sweet and Lowdown, Minority Report and Synecdoche, New York, strips everything away for her role as Aisha, a grieving mother left incapable of looking after herself and her children. While Morton’s role lacks dialogue, she says everything she needs to through intricate changes in facial expression and posture. Aisha is a women left rudderless without her husband, and Morton portrays her deep grief and detachment from the world around her.
In contrast to Aisha, Piper’s Lillah is outspoken, tightly wound, highly emotional, with every thought that passes through her mind flowing straight out of her mouth. Like Aisha, Lillah is heartbroken but in a different way, and she’s not quiet about it. Ramsey’s Miranda, Lillah’s uncontrollable whirlwind of a daughter, rips into and out of every scene she’s in, sensitive to her mother’s change in tone and happy to scream the place down until she gets her own way. Mays’ Lias acts as the ‘father figure’ the two families need (including making bad ‘dad jokes’), attempting to control the calm but failing miserably in the face of the mess Miranda and Troy cause.
The true stars of Two for Joy are Jones as Vi and Skelton as Troy. The former is quiet about her sadness, retreating into her studies, keeping herself to herself. The latter is almost feral, unable to put words to his feelings, instead running riot around town, in desperate need of loving parental guidance. Despite their differences, Vi and Troy share a close bond, a sweetness between them that’s revealed over a midnight snack, a cheeky gesture, a wink. For anyone familiar with tense sibling relationships, this is one for you.
With a title inspired by an old folk tale, the narrative focuses on pairs and how each is different from the rest. Aisha and Vi, Vi and Troy, Troy and Aisha. Lias and Lillah, Lillah and Aisha, Aisha and Lias; and then Troy and Miranda, where the chaos of the story peaks. Gritty and gripping, dirty and heartbreaking, all balancing acts and power struggles until one wins out over the other.
Two for Joy is an almost perfect example of modern British cinema. Beard should be very proud.
Two for Joy comes to VOD on 25th February.
Order now by clicking here