Perfect 10 – Film Review

Perfect 10 is more than simply being a coming of age tale about a teenage gymnast in Brighton. In fact, the film could not be described as a sports film at all as it depicts the tumultuous change in the protagonist Leigh’s life with the sudden arrival of a half-brother that she did not know existed. Perfect 10 successfully focuses its energy on sibling relationships instead with a captivating performance from Frankie Box as Leigh. Perfect 10, as a result, is a moving, gripping tale of a teenage girl’s attempts to navigate her way through life and find a world in which she belongs.

Box is a real life gymnast and so it is mesmerising to watch the gymnastic performances in those few moments of the film and gain an insight into that world. First time feature director Eva Riley captures this world sensitively using voiceovers and faltering movements to portray Leigh’s initial lack of confidence which is understandable given that the voices overheard are from the other female gymnasts taunting Leigh. Riley cleverly portrays this inner angst and competitiveness in an empathetic manner from the outset creating that emotional resonance with Leigh for the audience.

Frankie Box as Leigh in Perfect 10
Frankie Box as Leigh in Perfect 10

Riley’s camera work ensures that the emotional connection to Leigh continues with shaky hand held footage and close ups with some stunning moments with light streaming whilst Leigh performs. However, the gritty aspects of social realism emerge from the periphery subtly, at first, when Leigh is told ‘no money, no entry to the competition’ at the gymnastic club and the insights into her home situation with a seemingly absent father cement this further.

Whilst such social commentary within a coming of age tale has been addressed before, with the festival film Hilda coming to mind which similarly has a teenage dancer protagonist, the rawness of Box’s performance under Riley’s direction produces an additional dimension. Her expressive face conveys so much emotion whether she is defending herself or trying to impress older teenagers, once her brother enters her world, which is delightful to witness.

However, the notion of not having sufficient money remains an underlying theme in Perfect 10 as the impressionable Leigh becomes enticed by a world of petty theft. Riley deliberately chooses not to use much exposition to explore this aspect but Leigh’s desperation to become immersed in the seemingly exciting criminality and essentially to be liked provides this emphasis through Box’s captivating, vulnerable performance.

Leigh in Perfect 10
Leigh in Perfect 10

Leigh’s view of the world seems topsy-turvy in such moments as she is very much an outsider and Riley literally shows her upside down point of view of a world which has few adults present. Indeed, Box’s world had been turned upside down during filming due to developing a stomach condition therefore impacting her ability to compete in gymnastics with an operation required which could not be performed by the NHS. A successful crowdfunding campaign ensured that the operation went ahead meaning that Box can continue to perform in gymnastics. Knowing this context creates more emotional depth and nuance whilst viewing Box’s amazing performance as Leigh. Riley’s direction provides that platform for Box to shine in her first acting role and she fills the screen with verve.

The dynamics between Box and Alfie Deegan as Joe seem so natural with an instant camaraderie. Riley delicately portrays this burgeoning sibling relationship as having a positive impact on Leigh’s mental wellbeing despite the peer pressure and the theft. In another film, the natural intimacy of this brother and sister relationship may not have been directed so innocently and tenderly. Box’s face lights up in Deegan’s presence as Perfect 10 explores Leigh’s transformation whilst socialising with the older teenagers. Riley skilfully imbues a sense of liberty within such scenes which are set in summer on the Brighton beach therefore providing that space for Leigh’s self-discovery and the development of the relationship with the older brother.

Frankie Box and Alfie Deegan as Leigh and Joe in Perfect 10
Frankie Box and Alfie Deegan as Leigh and Joe in Perfect 10

The cinematography exploits that space beautifully with mesmerising panoramic shots and naturalistic sounds with night time meetings by motorcycle and no exposition. The sense of rebelliousness pervades those scenes but equally under Riley’s direction, the camera angles also create that unsettling tension highlighting Leigh’s vulnerability amongst an older set of teenagers, including Joe, which will keep the audience transfixed on the edge of their seats.

Riley, subtly, hints at aspects of grief affecting the siblings with the camera intercutting to zoom in on hands that barely touch in sympathy or awkward glances. Perfect 10 scores those high marks in its ability to portray the unspoken thoughts between family members as well as the lingering impact. Whilst Perfect 10 may seem slow paced, again, it scores high marks with its length given that the film is just under 90 minutes.

Perfect 10 is a fascinating feel-good film for the summer months with that underlying tension and sensuality simmering under the surface. The film, through its emphasis on the sibling relationship, also creates that structure for the unleashing of sexual desire, which is unsurprising given that in one scene all of the teenage boys were shirtless! This simmering sensuality adds to the tension and the sense of liberation evoked whilst Riley explores that development of a sibling relationship between teenagers that barely know each other.

Leigh and Joe in Perfect 10
Leigh and Joe in Perfect 10

Perfect 10 is Box’s film as she fills the screen with her mesmerising gymnastic routines and impressive portrayal as Leigh portraying both a degree of vulnerability and street-smart brittleness. It is a delight witnessing Box demonstrating that seismic change in Leigh’s confidence over the course of the film and Box will be one to watch in the future.

Perfect 10 overall, is a charming, coming of age tale with a summer backdrop as a distraction embedded within a familial construct. Riley’s flair is evident with this sensitive outlook in Perfect 10 which also touches upon the bullying and mental health issues that can develop within the world of gymnastics. There is such a stunning use of natural light in Perfect 10 which will equally charm the audience with its uplifting effect.

Riley is already working on her second feature film which will similarly include teenagers and her progress seems to be one to track!

Perfect 10 will be released in selected cinemas and on digital through Curzon Home Cinema and BFI Player.

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