Director – Aki Omoshaybi – 2019 – UK – Cert. 15 – 78m
Kyle (director Aki Omoshaybi) and Jamie (Pippa Bennett-Warner) first meet in a newsagents in the city centre. Her credit card is stopped. He helps her out and pays the bill. She works in a local community centre, he in a solicitor’s. Actually, both of them are lying, desperate to make a good first impression and reluctant to reveal their true circumstances for fear of judgement.
They start dating. Jamie is the first to crack. She admits she has a child Felix (Taye Matthew). And works in a convenience store. However, Kyle can’t bring himself to come clean. Unfortunately for him, Jamie’s best mate Tash (Amy Manson from Run, Scott Graham / 2019) has had dealings with him and knows he’s an ex-offender. So it’s only a matter of time before Jamie finds out.
Kyle has become homeless, so begs his alienated mum (Karen Bryson) to let him stay at hers for a while. He screws that up though by borrowing her car without permission to take Jamie and her little boy Felix to the beach on a Sunday. It’s the first time she”s missed church in twenty years, and she’s understandably not pleased. He’s been screwing up for years and it turns out there are reasons why which relate to his family’s history…
Real is a peculiar film in that it gets some major things right few films do but then fails badly elsewhere.
One of the things it gets right is to have two central characters who happen to be black but not to make a big thing about it. One could argue for instance that black people are more likely to be unemployed because of prejudice against them meaning they are less likely to get hired than other people. The film doesn’t make an issue of that. It just has two unemployed characters. Who happen to be black. Good call.
It’s also absolutely right about the way people lie to protect themselves. In a society which holds up earning power and wealth as aspirational goals, people measure themselves by their jobs and how much they’re paid. People not in jobs are perceived as worthless, so it’s understandable that they might conceal the fact.
And whatever people say about feminism, men are still widely perceived as the main breadwinners in a relationship or family unit and many women want want them to fill that role, so the psychological pressure on men in relationships to pretend they’re in a position to look after a woman financially is huge.
Real chooses to set itself in Portsmouth, which is admirable, but I didn’t realise that was the setting and was convinced it was set in parts of London. If there’s anything distinctive about Portsmouth, the film doesn’t show it.
When Kyle borrows his mum’s car without asking, there should at the very least been a filthy row about him not being covered by the insurance. I was waiting for him to crash the car and imagining all the consequences that might ensue. That’s indicative of how I felt about much of the film – it’s got a really strong premise and plot with incredible potential which it then woefully fails to fully develop.
Perhaps the worst problem is the lack of understanding of Kyle’s mum’s Christian faith. If she’s an uncaring religious bigot or hypocrite, that needs to be worked out in the script. Otherwise, people of faith like myself are going to wonder why she treats her son so badly when her faith encourages peace, forgiveness and reconciliation. This is a major script shortcoming: to see how it should be done, take a look at the much better researched Apostasy (Daniel Kokotajlo, 2017) which completely gets the mindset of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
That said, while Real could have been a lot more… erm… real, the two lead characters are convincingly written and well-performed and it grasps what unemployment or underemployment does to people. That’s quite an achievement. It’s also an effective if unusual romantic drama.