Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Wasp (2003)

Andrea Arnold's Oscar winning 2003 short Wasp puts one in mind of early Ken Loach/Nell Dunn in that it is starkly realistic tragicomic and deeply poignant look at Zoe, a young Dartmouth woman, struggling to get by on her wits, with four young children in tow and no man to take care of them, let alone a sufficient welfare state.

This is motherhood in the raw. Backed into a corner by merciless poverty, Zoe is forced to take her chance whenever she sees it regardless of its immediate ill effects on her children. 

Natalie Press stars as Zoe, a young working class woman on a sink estate whose ordinary desires and dreams (her belief that she looks like Victoria Beckham and her fervent hope that one day she will  meet her David Beckham) are seen to be crushed on a daily basis. Its this sympathetic approach, this understanding of her deprivation of the joys other women of her age take for granted that gives Wasp its authentic depth and dimension. It would be easy, for example, to view the lank greasy hair and dirty faces of the children, their going without food, eating sugar from the bag and being forced to play outside in the pub car park all evening, picking up off the floor the leftover takeaway of a gang of lads to feast upon, as scenes to hold Zoe in utter contempt for - after all, its this kind of neglect that regularly screams out load across the front pages of the Daily Mail right? But Arnold is astute, open minded and empathetic enough to know that you must look at both the cause and the effect, and not the latter alone.

Zoe unexpectedly bumps into her childhood crush back from the army, David played by Danny Dyer. I'm not a fan of Dyer but he equips himself relatively well here and does what is asked of him in what is essentially a supporting role. David - who doesn't know Zoe has children - asks her out and, unable to get a childminder, Zoe is forced to take the kids down to the pub placing them in the car park and giving them strict instructions not to disturb her unless its an absolute emergency. Zoe clearly savours those brief few hours of romance with David but a sudden wasp attack on the youngest of her children wrecks her date and makes her realise the folly of her ill thought out, momentarily selfish, actions.

Aside from Press and Dyer the stars of the film are the child actors playing Zoe's offspring. Each child gives a uniquely individual performance which marks them out as distinctive characters in their own right from the eldest, forced to play surrogate mother and already growing wise to her mother's ways, to the helpless baby in the pram who suffers the unwanted attentions of the titular wasp.

Arnold shoots Wasp with a wonderful highly realistic style via shaky hand held camera and interesting close ups that capture something of the existence of Zoe and her children. Throughout the film DJ Otzi's rendition of Hey Baby (If You'll Be My Girl) a huge hit at the time features during Zoe's date in the pub and again over the closing credits, offering a hopeful off camera conclusion and can be said to represent both her desire to be someone's girl, in this case David's, but also the conflict of being both a mother and little more than a girl herself.

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