Like the title of film, REAL is based around the everyday lives of Jamie (Pippa Bennett-Warner) and Kyle (Aki Omoshaybi), who unintentionally bump into each other near a business centre in Portsmouth. After a brief chat, we also quickly learn that they both lie about their actual jobs, as Jamie pretends she works in one of the companies nearby and Kyle says he’s a solicitor, when in reality they’re both actively job hunting and have come from interviews.
As well as starring, REAL is Omoshaybi’s directorial feature debut, in a screenplay co-written with Paulette Mbassa, and his film technique is a hands-on, soft-steady-cam approach, that mirrors the title of the film. The very natural spirit of the production always places the audience somewhere that’s recognisable, in the sense that it could be something you’ve also lived through. Early on, and as the story develops, I found it incredibly encouraging that these events take place in Portsmouth, as most stories these days tend to be and around London. By setting it somewhere separate, but clearly in the UK, it offers a perspective over how these situations, with people struggling and just getting by, well, can happen anywhere rather than just in our capital city.
But first things first, and back to after Kyle and Jamie meet, as this is when we quickly learn that despite their first impressions to each other – and to the audience – the truth is that underneath the surface, they have a lot more going and over the course of the film, this is progressively and skilfully revealed. They yearn for a life with just a full-time job and that everyday security that not all of us have but, like many places, jobs aren’t always easy to come by, especially when you’ve got your self-confidence or family issues holding you back.
While they both dream of the big roles, Jamie also has her young son Felix to look after, and it also becomes clear that Kyle is struggling as well and has returned home to live with his Mum (Karen Bryson). Both characters are taking anything they can get, whilst also pretending to be other people. So in between part-time work, hunting for something better and the usual days of survival, the pair are also initiating some form of more intimate relationship but while Jamie reveals her truths, Kyle continues to sit above it, and so will the reality slip out, or will they find a way to work around it?
While REAL doesn’t hold a true grittiness, that doesn’t take away from the lead characters and this comes down to the performances from Omoshaybi and Bennett-Warner. They feel authentic, while not over-dramatic, and offer a sense of searching for a focus but also that air of loss you can feel when you’re not sure of the journey in front of you. We’re also offered glimpses of their past, before the moments since they met, which gives us the materials to build their personalities and keep that essence of mystery, because we’re not told everything immediately. This is crucial because it keeps you interested, and this keeps the boundaries of their relationship as an unknown.
Their chemistry is also instinctive, with desire and doubt present in equal measure. None of their moments together are pushed on us with heavy scoring or overly emotive songs, which is over-done a lot in modern filmmaking, but when music is used, it’s softly scored, reflective and endeavours to mean something. It’s filmed with a pure consistency, coming in level to their faces as they chat, keeping both on an equal ground. They’re also both quite calm, without excessive intentions it seems. As arguments rage in the background of them heading home, you wonder if they can find something better, for both. They’ve both got great screen presence as well, so feel like we’ll see a lot more of Pippa Bennett-Warner and Aki Omoshaybi in the years to come.
As well as smaller roles, and solid performances, from the likes of Amy Manson and a brief, yet important, part for Suzanne Llewellyn, there’s plenty more to discover in REAL for yourselves. I see a lot of relationship films, with two people meeting each other, which become over-emotive, but this is unusually refreshing and again, without over-playing the word, satisfyingly real. They’re looking for a ray of light as life gets in the way, showing that although you can’t always be what you want to be but there’s always a little hope if you start looking in positive places.