Aftersun: It's Like Fun Home, Without The Music
As people grow up, they start to look at their parents in a new light. They see them for the flawed people they are, as opposed to the heroes they thought they were as a kid. That exploration is on full display here in Aftersun, Charlotte Well's examination of a relationship between a father and daughter, through the lens of a daughter looking back once she's had a child of her own. It is an affecting movie that has some wonderful performances, but also comes with a level of vagueness that stops it from being truly great.
Memories....Light the corners of my mind...
The movie follows Sophie (Adult version palyed by Celia Rowlson Hall, teen version played by Frankie Corio) as she watches home videos and remembers the last holiday she went on with her dad, to Turkey. Sophie, now in a queer relationship raising a child of her own, is searching the videos for connection and a deeper understanding of her relationship with her father, who seems no longer part of her life. The majority of the film is set during this past holiday, with snippets of modern day Sophie thrown in to remind the viewer of the framing device. Sophie and her dad Calum (Paul Mescal) are on holiday in Turkey, at a resort; it's not the nicest resort, but they are making due with what they have, and with each other.
Calum is very clearly a person with a lot of trauma in their life...traumas that Sophie is not fully aware of. He is amicably separated from Sophie's mom, and lives near London, while Sophie and her mom are in Edinburgh. As the film is told from Sophie's POV, the audience is not privy to a lot of Calum's backstory, only learning what he has told Sophie. This choice is both realistic in its understanding of the secrets parents keep, but also frustrating as it creates a space between the audience and the characters that makes it harder to connect with them. It is also left unclear what has become of Calum, which makes the reasoning behind Sophie watching these home videos feel a bit murky and undefined.
...Misty, water-colored memories...
Paul Mescal gives a shattering performance as Calum, a single father with severe depression just trying to do the best for his kid. His eyes are so incredibly expressive, and able to shift his thoughts and intentions effortlessly. He's a tragic protagonist, and Mescal plays the peaks and valleys of a person dealing with depression excellently. He's matched by Frankie Corio giving an incendiary performance as the young Sophie, navigating the struggles of a young woman finding her sense of self, and exploring what the world is starting to become as she grows into a teenager.
While the movie doesn't shy away from the fact that Sophie grows up to be in a queer relationship with another woman, it remains vague about Calum's sexuality. He is certainly a queer-coded character, at least. The brief snippets we do get of his life outside of vacation seem to imply that he had a rough time fitting in as a child, has no desire to stay in touch with his family (outside of Sophie and her mom) due to prior altercations, and that he is getting a flat with his work partner, Keith. Now, while these things are not solely linked to queerness, the fact is that life was and remains like that for a lot of queer men, especially in the mid 90's, when this vacation took place. If there had been a more overt acknowledgement of Calum's queerness, it could have helped connect to what Sophie is dealing with in the present day, drawing parallels in how two generations of queer parents raise a child, and the differences in situation offered by time.
Of the way we were.
The movie takes full advantage of the beautiful scenery of this Turkish resort, crafting some beautiful shots. There are moments where the camera lingers a little too long on a face or a background item, that helps propel the laissez-faire feeling of being on vacation. While there is some vagueness that hinders the story, the movie ultimately succeeds in chronicling the complex relationship between a father and daughter. It is a fantastic examination of what it means to do your best for your kid, and how we all grow to inspect and dissect our parental relationships.