Like their near-namesakes, the teenage Lauren and her younger brother Harvey (Bel Powley and Alfie Field) form a double-act of sorts, their relationship characterised by a mixture of bickering, bantering and affection. The pair are orphans living with their Alzheimer's-afflicted Grandmother (Diana Quick) and their futures are hanging in the balance somewhat. Lauren is a star athlete who's being pressurised and manipulated by her agent Janice (an arch Sara Stewart) into a career that she's not really sure is for her. Harvey is an avid gamer given to getting into trouble. A mysterious missive revealed by their Gran leads the siblings to take to the road on a quest to find their long-lost Grandfather, who apparently resides in Scotland. The journey there is full of encounters and incident, with Janice in hot pursuit.
Side By Side is the debut feature film by the young British filmmaker Arthur Landon, and it proves a likeable, good-natured affair, although one that's perhaps unlikely to really beguile the teen audience it's aimed at. The movie has an awkward opening, and its conclusion is all wrong too, but it finds its rhythm and purpose in its middle section when Lauren and Harvey hit the road. With its focus upon a couple of young runaways, the movie plays out like a benign variant on Charles Laughton's The Night of the Hunter with our heroes relying on their wits to survive against the odds. Landon casts a fond eye on the Hampshire, Devon and Scottish locations to create a distinctively British road movie, and supplements the scenes with a breezy folk score that adds to the movie's charm.
There's an admirable lack of cutseyness to Landon's approach; rather he grounds the movie in believable dilemmas and makes us come to care for the characters without making them too easily loveable. He and co-writer Matthew Wilkinson write some enjoyably tart exchanges for the protagonists ('Just because I'm ginger doesn't mean you can treat me like Annie' Harvey remarks at one point) which the two young actors deliver with aplomb. Powley brings the same kind of candour and conviction she's shown on stage to bear on her first major screen role, and Field is a find, making Harvey as endearing and as irritating as a younger brother ought to be. The pair's engaging double-act holds the movie together during its shakier stretches and helps Side By Side add up to a promising debut.
Sat Oct 12, 2013: 15:45: NFT3