Soundtrack to Sixteen – Film Review

Can you remember the songs that you listened to at 16 during that time when making mixtapes was an important ritual? Soundtrack to Sixteen will take you on a journey through nostalgia where a similar compilation is made in the film, as a reminder of key songs shaping that moment in life. Soundtrack to Sixteen is an uplifting coming of age tale from the Shakespeare Sisters team depicting a seemingly uncomplicated period of life during the 2000s. Admittedly, life certainly seemed simpler then without the social media pressure and smart phones at 16!

Fortunately, I was able to attend the première of Soundtrack to Sixteen at the Prince Charles Cinema as my penultimate new release film, watched in the cinema, prior to the enforced closure of cinemas due to the coronavirus outbreak. As such, the film’s cinema run was unexpectedly curtailed, similar to Misbehaviour, but Soundtrack to Sixteen will now be available to watch on video on demand from 4 May 2020.

Soundtrack to Sixteen’s humorous portrayal of those angst-ridden teenage years, with a full stream of consciousness, is enjoyable to watch. The film also highlights those awkward moments of being a teenager as the protagonist Maisy is stressing about having never been kissed. Her anxiety is amplified by her younger sister declaring that even she has been kissed and so Maisy’s mission is to have her first kiss before turning 17.

We are privy to Maisy’s innermost thoughts to humorous effect by voiceover from the outset, reminiscent of the style of television programmes such as Miranda and Fleabag, as her pathway intersects that of Ben’s whilst Maisy ‘stalks’ the unattainable Nathan Beals-Harper. We can probably all identify with that level of embarrassment felt whilst having a first crush as Nathan effectively ignores Maisy.

Scarlett Marshall and Gino Wilson as Maisy and Ben in Soundtrack to Sixteen
Scarlett Marshall and Gino Wilson as Maisy and Ben in Soundtrack to Sixteen

Soundtrack to Sixteen highlights the emotional turbulence encountered whilst being 16, the level of uncertainty felt, the growing pains, the attempt to discover your own identity and where you fit in. Ben, from another school, seems to revel in being considered a nerd and has a supportive group of friends. However, Maisy’s longstanding friends, in contrast, commit a cardinal sin in attending a party to which she has not been invited. Soundtrack to Sixteen effectively captures the differences in the approach to friendships between the genders during those awkward adolescent years. Maisy is subjected to cruel humiliation whilst attempting to befriend a ‘popular’ group of girls, after her original friendship group’s betrayal, whilst Ben’s friends collectively attempt to attend a party to seem ‘cool’.

Soundtrack to Sixteen is set within the streets of London and it was thrilling to attempt to recognise the various areas displayed such as the pedestrianised area within Islington and there are scenes shot at the Barbican as well; it is truly a love letter to growing up within London. However, the schools attended by Ben and Maisy appear to be independent schools, with Maisy attending an all-girls school. As such, their experiences of adolescence will differ to others growing up within some of the inner-city areas of London. Soundtrack to Sixteen therefore presents a light but romanticised depiction of teenage angst without an examination of social realism.

Ben and friends during study period in Soundtrack to Sixteen
Ben and friends during study period in Soundtrack to Sixteen

Soundtrack to Sixteen is directed by Hillary Shakespeare and it was her debut film; Shakespeare, in developing the film, could recall the various songs listened to at the age of 16 and as such songs feature heavily within the film. The direction with its close ups of the protagonists and inner monologue might conjure up images of the writings of diarist Adrian Mole and Shakespeare has therefore captured this teenage angst perfectly.

The film’s colour palette exudes positivity and assists the humour as we see Maisy wearing a bright red ‘cute’ bonnet. The colour palette, with its vibrant colours and pastel hues, also fits with that concept of transitioning from child to adult as Maisy appears to be quite childlike as she still hosts imaginary tea parties with her younger sister.

Soundtrack to Sixteen, additionally explores the pressures felt at 16 to excel academically. Maisy is socially awkward and cites chemistry theories whilst standing in a queue for the toilet at a party whilst Ben decides not to make further effort after being disappointed to receive a low grade for a project. At that stage in our lives, everything seemed so absolute and so the pressure mounts internally. The teachers in Soundtrack to Sixteen compound these aspects of pressure by telling all of the students, in a very well edited scene, just how challenging the new academic year post GCSEs would be.

Ben and Maisy studying together in Soundtrack to Sixteen
Ben and Maisy studying together in Soundtrack to Sixteen

Soundtrack to Sixteen takes its audience through those uncomfortable teenage moments which we can now safely re-live at a distance. It is reminiscent of the recent film Eighth Grade in its accurate and raw depiction of some cringe-worthy, excruciatingly embarrassing adolescent moments that we would all have preferred to avoid! It is to Shakespeare’s credit that these moments do not appear contrived and as such the audience is likely to resonate with Maisy and indeed Ben throughout the dilemmas and uncertainties experienced.

The dynamics between Scarlett Marshall as Maisy and Gino Wilson as Ben with their repartees and growing friendship work well and seem natural. It is also refreshing to see that Soundtrack to Sixteen does not attempt to create a ‘meet-cute’ as Ben at one stage is Maisy’s only friend; but they continue to study together assisting each other with their respective weaker subjects.

Soundtrack to Sixteen’s upbeat soundtrack is a character in its own right and is unveiled throughout the film as both diegetic and non-diegetic sounds which adds to the film’s feel-good humorous nature. Tracks such as Fremantle’s ‘Twenty-Three’ and Four Thousand Dollar Ham Napkin’s ‘Haircut’ feature, which may transport you back to that innocent period of discovering your music tastes.

Ben and friends playing in the band in Soundtrack to Sixteen
Ben and friends playing in the band in Soundtrack to Sixteen

Soundtrack to Sixteen is a heart-warming tale of friendship and self-discovery as well as being a well-made uplifting film for these times. The film was also a winner at the London Independent Film Festival 2019 for the Best Micro Budget Feature award.

The cast and crew at the Soundtrack to Sixteen premiere
The cast and crew at the Soundtrack to Sixteen premiere

Soundtrack to Sixteen’s trailer can be viewed here and the film is currently available to pre-order on iTunes.

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