Over/ Under – San Francisco Film Festival 2022 – Film Review

Over/ Under depicts those summer childhood rituals that may often be remembered fondly as moments of unbridled freedom to be cherished. Splashing carefree in water and jumping over waves on a warm summer’s day chanting ‘over’ and ‘under’ is an activity that many adults would probably love to indulge in now and for Violet and Stella in Over/Under it is a pivotal scene revealing not just the inspiration for the film’s title, but also a captivating immersion in to a girlish world of make-believe involving wishes made to fairies whilst capturing butterflies. Over/ Under is a simple, coming-of-age tale, that punctuates the fantasy with reality, but this belies its ability to conjure up the magical realism and innocence of a close friendship between young girls, whose main desire initially is to have a sleepover together.

Traversing four summers in the lives of Violet and Stella aged 9 to 13, Over/ Under is superior to similar stories given its depth and uncanny ability to build a gentle resonance with the leading girls. That pre-teen awkwardness of wishing to belong and to find your tribe is a subject that has been tackled before but in the hands of first-time director, Sophia Silver, the expression of angst overspills into unspoken communication. The young girls’ anxiety is translated by glances comparing their wavy hair to a friend’s straight hair or their pre-pubescent body to a friend’s developing body. That concept of squirming and looking at your feet in embarrassment is therefore put in to full effect in scenes that many will identify with and will unwittingly squirm too in empathy. Over/ Under deliciously captures that sense of feeling left behind as the girls’ experience puberty at different times and the film does not fail to be a reminder that body shaming in the girls’ locker room was often a cruel but popular pursuit.

Emajean Bullock and Anastasia Victoria Lee in Over/ Under
Emajean Bullock and Anastasia Victoria Lee in Over/ Under

The level of emotion drawn out in the film is impressive, for a film of this nature, and remains impactful due, in part, to the strength of the performance from the two young leading actors. Both girls in their day to day lives, in differing states, encounter family conflict, which the film unsatisfactorily skims over, but it provides a distinguishing feature despite lacking meaningful details. However, what is apparent is Stella and Violet’s respective emotional anguish. The pain from having to contend with, and understand, adult drama is conveyed from these girls’ perspective with such expressive reactions on the face of each of the young girls.

The inability of the young girls to cope with such emotion, is conveyed with a force capturing the burden of their assumed responsibility well. Despite the closeness of their relationship, Over/ Under depicts the nuanced emotional range as Stella and Violet are simply not mature enough to articulate those feelings of disappointment experienced. Their feelings of abandonment and a fear of mortality are shown to fester in their individual ways, emphasising each girl’s cry for help. Silver effortlessly depicts such themes in a sensitive manner which would appeal to adults as well as younger girls struggling within similar scenarios.

Over/ Under entices with this nuanced perspective. Themes such as bullying and terminal illnesses are given ample screen-time without an over accentuating of exposition. The female lens and the emphasis on the power of observing and appearances deliciously captivate the film and Silver provides each young actor with the confidence to languish in those emotions fully to dramatic effect.

At times, Over/ Under is painful to watch with its raw depiction of the changes in the friendship dynamics as the risk of outgrowing a friend unfolds. Silver delicately navigates this process, based on her own summer memories, and skilfully immerses the audience within the summer developments as conflicts appear with the girls’ differing attitudes towards growing up. It is a realisation that also emerges during the film’s scenes of awkward sexual discovery moments, which are so accurately depicted to be squirm inducing for the audience. Silver successfully ratchets up the emotions from those often-buried childhood moments with aplomb and re-creates those toe-curling moments of youth.

Emajean Bullock and Anastasia Victoria Lee as Stella and Violet in Over/ Under
Emajean Bullock and Anastasia Victoria Lee as Stella and Violet in Over/ Under

Over/ Under is that exuberant tale of youth and female friendship and offers a non-judgmental and joyous celebration of a platonic relationship despite distances, physical and mental. The film lurches its audience from one girl’s emotive state to the other in such an insightful and respectful way.

It is an affecting film, full of joy and changes interspersed with a requirement for stability through rituals. Over/ Under unveils that magical beauty of indulging that inner child and maintaining those friendships that keep us grounded, as part of the aspects of life that truly matter involve having someone to share the cringeworthy moments and those stunning beach sunsets.

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