Charlotte Wells’ directorial debut is a beautiful love letter to the sun-soaked memories of our youth.
*This review contains spoilers!*
Braids, Elvis impersonators, and friends you make for a week and never hear from again are staples of the British summer holiday experience. Charlotte Wells holds space for the details often not given the time of day in her feature directorial debut, Aftersun, a father/daughter tale of one sun-soaked holiday in Turkey. Paul Mescal stars as Calum, father to eleven-year-old Sophie (Frankie Corio), who is bursting with life and curiosity against her father’s desire to keep up despite battling his mental health.
Aftersun is Sophie’s story. She is remembering and reflecting on what is presumed to be the final summer she spent with her father, filling in the blanks and trying to make sense of a man she barely knew but loved. It’s a beautiful portrait of the lives we make up for the people we love in an attempt to understand them better, acknowledging the childlike wonder of being oblivious to a parent’s suffering. Wells has moments of beautiful framing from Sophie’s level, when we see the world as she would see it, like gathering around a pool table with her dad and the older kids. We see the ‘adult’ through the lens of a child, invited to be part of the polaroid moments we often only hear about second-hand.
Films that feature children so prevalently can fall apart without the right person to fulfill the role, but Corio holds her own opposite on-the-rise Mescal. Aftersun is her singular acting credit, and yet she is a force. Corio understands the larger narrative that this is her older self remembering something while also keeping the realism alive in the present day. She is confident and bold in a way that only a child on a summer holiday is, and it’s a delight to watch her use silence as much as she uses Wells’ dialogue to articulate the complexity of being eleven.
The chemistry between Corio and Mescal is the beating heart of the film. Watching them play what feels like a real father-daughter duo is mesmerising. They understand the relationship is not always the cliché Hollywood ideology and embrace the difficulties, such as Calum only being 18 years older than Sophie but feeling like his life slipped away from him. He sees the wonder in his daughter, who captures moments on a camcorder, asking him questions like, “When you were eleven, where did you think you’d be now?” For a child, it’s as innocent as asking, “What did you have for lunch?” but an adult will know the weight those words carry: the idea that by 29, you would have your whole life the way you dreamed in adolescence. Sophie is smart. She keeps up with her dad and has no issues challenging him. They’re alike and yet worlds apart.
Wells combines realism with surrealism, with some pivotal scenes taking place in what looks like a nightclub but equally feels nowhere specific. Wells uses dance and the body as a way for Calum to find peace and express all he is suppressing. There’s a moment to the soundtrack of Queen’s “Under Pressure” that feels designed to break your heart, and it does so with ease. Aftersun earns the devastation that follows through respecting and loving its characters. It is human, quiet, and gentle; a beautiful entry to features for Charlotte Wells.
Should be Considered: Best Supporting Actress, Best Original Screenplay
Release Date: October 21, 2022
Where to Watch: In Theaters
Makes movies and talks about them, too. Once gave Josh Gad a Diet Coke.
Favourite Directors: Greta Gerwig and Mike Mills