Do you remember being sixteen? Feeling like an outcast, wanting desperately to be cool, and simultaneously being expected to do well on tests? No? Well, Soundtrack to Sixteen, directed by Hillary Shakespeare, is sure to jog your memory.
The film follows Maisy and Ben, two teenagers growing up in London during the early 2000s who both perceive themselves to be awkward. When they meet, both feel like they’ve finally found someone to open up to. With a grounded perspective and realistic characters, Soundtrack to Sixteen is a film that understands exactly what teenagers go through.
Grounded in Reality
Maisy (Scarlett Marshall) is desperate to have her first kiss, and as part of that mission tries to become part of a “cooler” friend group, leaving her old friends in the dust. Of course, the cool girls want nothing to do with her and she ends up with no friends. Ben (James Calloway) is smart and comfortable being known as a nerd…until his grades start dropping.
We don’t see much of either character’s family (except Maisy’s high-energy little sister) but we do know they don’t have it that bad. They have friends, but still feel like they aren’t fitting in. The film nails the idea that as a teenager, everything feels like a big deal. From an adult perspective, 16 is not “too old” to have a first kiss, but when everyone around you has been there, done that, it does. There’s nothing wrong with being a “nerd,” but in the social constructs of school it feels like the end of the world.
Both Maisy and Ben make dumb decisions throughout the film to try and alleviate their anxieties but only make them worse. It’s sometimes frustrating to see them sabotage themselves, but that’s what being a teenager is all about. Co-written by Hillary and her sister Anna-Elizabeth Shakespeare, it is obvious that the pair were drawing from their own lives, because it feels so authentic.
Marshall and Calloway’s performances are part of what makes the film so tangible. Unlike other coming-of-age movies like Hot Summer Nights, which present a glamorous, unrealistic version of teenagers, Maisy and Ben seem like any kid you might run into in the halls. They perfectly ride the line between overdramatic and the inherent melodrama of adolescence.
Good Humor & Good Music
The film’s title would imply that music is a big part of the film. When Maisy and Ben properly meet on the night bus, Ben explains his tradition of making a playlist of the music he listened to at a certain age. It serves as his time capsule. It’s a way for them to bond, but it isn’t introduced until about halfway through. Ben and his friends decide to start a band because who doesn’t love saying they’re in a band? Music featured from bands like The Mutations illustrates their angst, but the music itself isn’t as important to the characters as the title would make it seem.
The script is well-written and very funny at times. At the beginning of the film, Maisy and her friend Megan (Isabel Fidderman) are burying one of Megan’s pet mice. They never treat the burial as a joke, which makes the actual joke all the funnier. Sometimes the jokes feel a little basic, but they’re still immensely charming.
One issue is the balance between comedy and drama. The transition from one tone to the other is somewhat jarring. Most of the script is great, but there are moments that are very much influenced by coming-of-age tropes. At the same time, the sudden shifts are indicative of how life feels at the age the Shakespeare’s are trying to replicate.
The side characters that make up the respective friend groups bring another layer of life to the film. Megan, and Maisy’s other original friends, are kind, funny, and realistic. The “cool” mean girls sometimes veer into stereotype territory but exemplify how silly teenage popularity really is. Ben’s pack of nerds bring some of the best comic relief moments. These characters flesh out the world around the main plot.
Soundtrack to Sixteen: Conclusion
While Soundtrack to Sixteen is biting off a lot of what other teen movies have done, it’s a short, concise, and delightful examination of teenage insecurities with great performances and strong writing. Most of all, it’ll make you so glad you’re not in high school anymore.
Watch Soundtrack to Sixteen
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