WATCH THE TRAILER HERE
First, the Recap:
Being the life of the party, the center of attention, adored by all, likely envied by many, and ideally known for having your apparently carefree life together. It would seem to be an easy façade to put up for the crowds, in the cacophony of loud music and the voices straining to engage over top of it. But, beneath the surface, what is the real story? For Joe Ridley (Matthew Stathers), there is an inner suffering, a debilitating weakness, that plagues the outward appearance he puts forth in the midst of such a raucous party at his flat. Even as he musters the fortitude to make newly formulated passes at the woman of his dreams, Elly (Lizzie Philips), it is evident issues reside within.
Battling a misshapen world in his mind filled with anxiety, depression, and crushed confidence thinly masked by his free-spirited, frat-boy shell, Joe’s longing for Elly becomes both his downfall and his greatest (and perhaps only) strength while he traverses commitment issues, a volatile temper, and the ghosts of a childhood trauma involving his beloved father, Joe Ridley, Sr. (James Kermack). Despite it all, he also finds some solace in spending time with his niece, Ava (Aavie Mae Kermack). With Elly giving everything of herself to love him as her heart dictates, Joe’s actions continue to push her away, unable to truly love himself or take complete responsibility for anything. Soon, it isn’t clear whether Joe can make it out of his troubled state or find the redemption he needs.
Next, my Mind:
With its edgy, in-your-face premise, intensely enacted lead characters, and searingly blunt force take on the realities of specific mental afflictions referenced above, writer/director James Kermack pulls no punches in this portrait of one fractured soul’s heart wrenching and, at times, darkly comedic journey towards oblivion or salvation. It paints an all-too-real portrait of just how self-destructive human beings can be towards themselves, much less the likewise devastating impact these attitudes and inner demons impose on those closest to them trying to bear with it and lead them to a better place. Yet amidst this tumultuous existence, there are genuine moments that exemplify total fidelity of heart and sincere love here, illustrated via Joe’s far more than obvious devotion to Elly, though his sinking back into being utterly oblivious to his affect on her when being contrary is painful to witness. The film’s stark settings and crisply shot cinematography follow the characters with high intentionality, immersing the viewer fully in the heart of both chaos and healing, especially during the effort’s potent final act.
Stathers masters the complexities of a broken man for his role as Joe, an individual whose entire actuality is devoid of any real purpose other than to be hindered by all the elements from his past and present that dictate his life, so often showcasing that he tends to try and live as he thinks others would have him rather than by his own choices. Even when he does act based on this, it is decision marred by the root problem of needing help, but refusing to seek it out in any meaningful way, notwithstanding all the efforts Elly puts forth to aid him. Joe is sometimes likeable, other times deplorable, and watching Stathers navigate this is a treat to watch. Likewise, Philips matches Stathers’ fervor stride for stride as Elly, a very long-suffering young woman whose desperation to find stability in her own life is interrupted by the ever-present love for Joe, which is beyond the call of most people’s duty, regardless of the highly taxing mental and verbal abuse she encounters with him. It’s an agonizing yet soul-stirring endeavor to watch Elly sail through such overtly stormy seas with the toll it takes on her, teetering on that borderline of believable/unbelievable that she adores him on such a deep level, there’s a willingness to persevere. It’s a wonderfully strong performance by Philips to embody the character.
Supporting turns are present from James Kermack himself as Joe’s father Joe Sr., who we see via flashback and whose story is integral to his son’s path, Aavie Mae Kermack as Joe’s niece Ava, with whom Joe finds rare moments of total peace and joy, Tom Bateman as Joe’s best friend Tony who sometimes acts as another point of calming presence for Joe, Gethin Anthony as a friend of the couple named Alex, Helen Kennedy as Elly’s bestie Anna, Noah James Kermack as the young child Joe in flashbacks, along with Thaila Zucchi as another friend Sarah and Joe Dixon as a Bruiser. In total, even with quite a bit of harsh language I personally don’t prefer in tow and its intentionally not-so-light-hearted narrative, “Hi-Lo Joe” is still a quality piece of character-driven dramatic flare that puts that sobering face to mental health and its ramifications, reminding us that seeking help before sanity and hope is lost remains paramount, even when it has to be us, not others, to make that possible life-altering choice.
As always, this is all for your consideration and comment. Until next time, thank you for reading!