Coming-of-age films are incredibly dependent upon the character that must experience change. They don't always have to be adolescents, but they must be exposed to some external source that allows the character to expand and mature. In most cases, the audience should grow along with this character in order to develop a meaningful connection. The majority of these stories are character driven, rather than narrative driven. However, the film is in great danger of failure if the audience isn't able to develop any type of connection to the character and the picture's themes. While he displays promise in other ways, writer/director Guy Myhill's The Goob is hardly unique or cohesive.
Taking place over a long hot summer in rural Norfolk, Goob (Liam Walpole) is forced to deal with a brutal, womanizing stock car racer named Womack (Sean Harris). The two begin fighting for the attention of Goob's mother (Sienna Guillory). He soon falls for the exotic charms of a pretty field worker named Eva (Marama Corlett), After enlisting the help of his friend Elliot (Oliver Kennedy), Goob dreams of a better life.
Before the opening credits begin to roll, Goob and his brother are placed in a life-threatening situation due to their mother's lover. However, this is only the beginning for young Goob. He has only ever known life with his mother, which is ultimately disrupted by the arrival of Elliot and Eva, but in massively different ways. Elliot is a free spirit that brings a certain positive energy into the household, occasionally freeing Goob from his hardships. Even as they're forced to do chores for Womack, they continue to share a bond that allows them to overcome many of their issues. However, when he leaves, Goob doesn't feel a sense of happiness until he meets eastern European summer worker, Eva. She exposes him to numerous joys in life, which Womack continues to interrupt. Despite Goob's misery within his family, such experiences have caused the adolescent to see past the fields where he lives and into the outside world. This lands him in a struggle of whether to remain with his mother to protect her from this brutal man, or give himself the best chance at a life of his own.
Myhill's screenplay is largely about this dangerous family dynamic, and how Goob copes with the feeling of neglect. His mother's attention is constantly taken away by Womack, as she's conflicted with whether to take the side of her lover or her sons. The conflicts continue to escalate over time, as Goob is forced to mature within a terribly abusive environment with a mother who constantly has trouble standing up for her children. The narrative may be light, but it's effective in the story that it's trying to tell. However, the problem is that it's nearly impossible to connect with any of the characters. Most of the changes are so internal, it hardly feels as if the audience is growing with Goob, as he fights to become independent. His thirst to experience the world is relatable, but the character himself feels far too thin for the audience to sympathize with him. There are some great moments sprinkled throughout the film, but a large amount of this drama simply feels one-dimensional.
While experiencing The Goob, it feels incredibly directionless. It comes across as a story being told via stream-of-consciousness, rather than a carefully planned film about a young man coming into his own person. However, it's told in a way that feels more like poetry. Myhill has a fascinating writing style that could prove to be quite brilliant. However, it feels more like an echo of a story than it does a powerful journey, significantly affecting the impact of the storytelling. Perhaps with a bit more direction, Myhill could craft something truly incredible. The style of surrealism is often portrayed here, but it doesn't make for a very memorable film experience. We've seen far too many of these artsy coming-of-age stories, and The Goob does absolutely nothing to establish its own voice among all of the clutter. There's a phenomenal film hidden somewhere underneath the surface, but it's certainly submerged and often silenced by what is ultimately a typical coming-of-age flick.
Wyhill isn't the only newcomer to the craft, but some of the cast is as well. Starring in his breakout role, Liam Walpole is quite impressive as Goob. He manages to display a level of innocence to the outside world that feels raw. He doesn't have a lot of dialogue to speak, but he often acts with his eyes and body language, delivering a subtle, but powerful performance. Even so, Sean Harris steals the show in the role of Womack. This brutally psychotic character is portrayed incredibly well. Harris holds a masterfully intimidating presence, even when he isn't saying a single word. Much like Walpole's performance, he successfully delivers the role through his eyes and body language. These two opposing character both have actors that manage to deliver exceptional performances that are surely the most memorable thing about the entire film.
The poetry style doesn't stop with the writing of this coming-of-age story, but are also heavily expressed through the visuals. Writer/director Guy Myhill's film has a gritty and ominous visual tone, while still expressing the beauty in the landscapes. The yellow filter applied to the picture offers a brightness that contrasts well with the content, although it also instills a sense of nervousness in the audience. The screenplay doesn't say much, but the visuals express an entire novel over the course of this feature's running time. Goob's feelings towards all of those around him are brilliantly portrayed through the way that they are filmed. Sequences with Elliot are shot in a whimsical fashion, while the frame has a stern sense of tension whenever Womack is on screen. It's just a shame that the screenplay couldn't be as impressive as the visuals.
There are hints of greatness in The Goob, but they're hardly capitalized upon. Rather, it feels more like the typical coming-of-age story disguised as an arthouse flick. What the film needed was to establish its lead character, so that we could identify with him, instead of distancing itself from the audience. Fortunately, Liam Walpole and Sean Harris' fantastic performances manage to carry the film through its lowest points, allowing this journey to remain engaging. Writer/director Guy Myhill displays true promise in his visual design, which feels more like a haunting, yet beautiful piece of poetry. The Goob is visually impactful, but emotionally ineffective. Rent it.
The Goob played at SXSW Film Festival 2015 on March 14th, March 15th, March 16th, and March 19th.